Most northern Michigan roadside parks have closed for the winter

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By NICK KIPPER
Capital News Service

LANSING — All of the roadside parks in the Upper Peninsula and most in the northernmost region of the Lower Peninsula closed for the winter at the end of October, with state officials citing budget constraints and harsh weather as the reasons.

The state has 85 roadside parks located primarily along rural highways, including 32 in the U.P. and 15 in the northern Lower Peninsula.

The roadside parks double as rest areas, catering primarily to long-distance travelers by offering a safe space to pull over and view or explore scenic spots. Every park is also equipped with a bathroom and water fountain.

“They provide convenience spots to stop, get out and stretch your legs, see some nice scenery and take advantage of the amenities,” said Dan Weingarten, the communications representative for the Department of Transportation (MDOT) Superior Region. “There are some roadside parks in the U.P. that have popular hiking trails and are along rivers.”

Every year, the eight MDOT regions individually decide whether to close a park by the end of October or November. The regions also determine when to reopen, typically not until late April, depending of the severity of that year’s winter.

“Right now the National Weather Service is predicting above-normal temperature but also above-average precipitation this winter, so our fingers are crossed,” Weingarten said. “We may see more snow than usual, which obviously makes winter maintenance of our roads and facilities more challenging.”

Every winter, MDOT receives inquiries and emails from travelers wishing that the parks could stay open year-round, Weingarten said. However, the cost of continual snow removal and heating facilities during the winter is simply not affordable in the department’s budget.

“If all other things were equal, we’d have a bigger budget for creating more roadside parks that were open 24 hours a day and heated full-season,” Weingarten said. “It’s just not something we want to divert from our important road repair and reconstruction work for.”

Each roadside park has its bathroom pumped, water shut off and gate entrance blocked for the winter by a county road commission, said Bill Wahl, an associate region engineer at MDOT who oversees the maintenance of roadside parks in the north region.

Determining whether to close a park at the end of October or November is based on factoring in weather conditions with the season’s expected visitor numbers based on demand for outdoor activities.

“Depending on hunting season in the fall, we’ll keep a handful open until Nov. 30,” Wahl said. “Some spots we’ll open a little early in the spring for fishing.”