By TRACEY GLAZENER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan’s state parks are getting a big face-lift, and state officials are confident visitors will like the changes and put up with construction work this summer.
The Department of Natural Resources is working to complete 230 state park improvement projects funded by the Clean Michigan Initiative.
CMI is a $675 million bond program, which provides grants to local government agencies to develop and improve public recreation facilities and $50 million for state park renovations.
DNR Director K.L. Cool said CMI projects have been on schedule and highly successful. In fact, the department has arranged for an additional $50 million for extensive renovations, including the complete renovation of eight parks.
Cool said one of the major challenges involved in carrying out CMI construction is minimizing the impact of ongoing projects on visitors.
“We’ve tried very hard to make improvements in the parks — to do it in both a time and manner that created the least disruption to park visitors as possible,” he said. “We’ve been extremely successful as a measure of what we’ve seen of public comments from the newspapers or elected representatives.”
However, Cool admits there are exceptions. He said some projects by their very nature are so extensive that it is nearly impossible not to interfere with some visitors.
For example, he said, the temporary closing of half of Charles Mears Park last year was the most controversial, because as one of the most popular parks, the already limited access to the campground is an issue every year.
The entire Oceana park will be opened this summer for the full season — April 5 through Nov. 10.
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park’s face-lift includes three new toilet buildings and upgraded electric and water systems.
The Muskegon park usually opens on April 1, but the CMI projects have pushed the scheduled opening date to May 12.
In that period last year, the park hosted a significant number of campers, representing 650 camp nights. A campsite in use — whether by a single person or a family — is considered a camp night.
But Manager Jerry Walters said the only complaints the park has received are due to misinformation about the park’s opening.
“We’ve actually had people show up here that were told by the reservations system that we’re open,” he said. “But it hasn’t been too much of a problem because there are so many open parks near us, so it’s easy for people to get set up somewhere nearby.”
Cool said the department doesn’t expect CMI improvements to necessarily draw more campers, because the Michigan State Parks system already hosts about 5 million campers each year. But, the agency does think campers will be more satisfied by their park experience.
“We do expect to see significant improvements for the visitors in terms of sanitation, electricity and the contemporary needs that people who camp today have,” he said. “We are presenting a more user-friendly opportunity to visit the outdoors and to visit these very unique areas in the state.”
Ludington State Park Manager Mike Mullen agrees. The park is replacing its 50-year-old Cedars campground building, which houses restroom facilities.
“This is a very important project for us,” he said. “Campers will definitely notice the new handicapped access and modernized construction.”
The majority of bond dollars are earmarked for five areas of improvement — replacement of toilet/shower buildings, water, sewage, electrical systems and road repairs.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By TRACEY GLAZENER