State Campgrounds Need Help From Private Sector

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has already closed 20 state forest campgrounds. The state claims there are not sufficient resources to adequately operate the campgrounds. The department is now threatening to close additional campgrounds located in state forests, which are popular with campers who desire a more rustic and quiet camping experience than what is generally available in state parks. State forest campgrounds are often near lakes or streams popular with fisherman and boaters.

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The DNR is asking for public input regarding what campgrounds should be closed. Although a public agency seeking public input is admirable it may well be a waste of time in this case. A popularity vote will do little to fix the problem. Individual campers and their families often have a tradition of using a particular favorite campground.

It is time that the DNR actively solicit help from the private sector in keeping these recreational facilities open to the public. Most of the state forest campgrounds are located in rural areas in the northern Lower and the Upper Peninsulas – areas of chronically high unemployment (Baraga County in the western Upper Peninsula has an unemployment rate of over 24 percent). It seems hard to believe that there would not be an interest from local residents in operating campgrounds in their areas.

The state must rethink how it manages its natural resources. Simply relying on taxpayer funding and user fees will not work as is evidenced by the closing of popular state forest campgrounds. Utilizing the private sector to help manage state natural resources seems like a much better alternative than closing those facilities to public use.