State Park Use Rises Locally

December 22, 2003
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LANSING — From Grand Haven to Holland, from Sleepy Hollow to Bay City and from Saugatuck to Lakeport, attendance rose — sometimes dramatically — at southern Michigan’s state parks and recreation areas this year.

And statewide, the number of campsite rentals and day visitors climbed in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30 compared with the previous year, reversing a multiyear downward spiral in popularity.

Department of Natural Resources (DNR) figures show 1.3 million campsite rentals in 2003, a 30 percent jump in one year and the highest figure since the mid-1970s.

And the parks tallied almost 20.3 million day visitors, up 17 percent from 2002 figures and about the same number as in 2001.

The two principal factors affecting park use probably were weather and the economy, especially since the state reduced its promotional activities, said Donald Holecek, director of the Travel, Tourism and Recreation Resource Center at Michigan State University.

While cool weather may have hurt attendance at the beaches, “the bug season was relatively short and it was relatively dry, especially for the inland lake-oriented parks,” he said. And while the economy was starting to improve, “people were looking for low-cost approaches to travel, and camping is a bargain relative to staying in a hotel or motel.”

Across Lower Michigan, most parks reported increased patronage in both camping and day use. For example, campsite and day use tripled at Sterling State Park near Monroe, which opened a new building last summer and completed building renovations and improved skid piers at its Lake Erie boat launch.

There were some exceptions to the trend, however.

Day use rose but camping dropped at Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan, Waterloo near Chelsea, and Yankee Springs south of Grand Rapids, according to DNR records.

That pattern was reversed — more campers but fewer day visitors — at Sleeper in the Thumb, Van Buren near South Haven, Hayes in the Irish Hills, and Lake Hudson between Hillsdale and Adrian.

Two southern Michigan parks reported a drop in both categories: Pontiac Lake and Proud Lake, both in Oakland County. So did one northern park, Clear Lake, between Alpena and Gaylord.

According to DNR records, the five busiest parks for camping are Ludington, South Higgins Lake, Holland, Lakeport and Algonac. Busiest parks for day use are Holland, Grand Haven, Island Lake, Muskegon and Silver Lake.    

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