By ANGIE JACKSON
Capital News Service
LANSING – As the hottest months for state park activity come to a close, attendance remains steady, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE).
While numbers for 2010 are still trickling in, Harold Herta, chief resource manager for the DNRE’s recreation division, said weather was a big contributor to stable attendance at Michigan’s 98 state parks and recreation areas.
Generally, state parks attract 20 and 25 million visitors a year, Herta said, with 21.5 million in 2009.
Herta expects 2010’s numbers to be consistent.
Tahquamenon Falls, Holland and Warren Dunes are among the state parks with an increased use in 2010. For Holland, it was a record year.
“We’re really weather-driven. Last year, the weather was cruddy,” said park supervisor Joyce Rhodes.
“Anytime we get good weather, state parks get a substantial increase in attendance,” said Donald Holecek, professor of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resources Studies at Michigan State University. “The summer was nearly perfect, relatively dry and the lakes were warm.
“I even heard that people in the U.P. were swimming in Lake Superior.”
Holland ranks No. 1 in the system.
It often has days with 10,000 people on the beach, Rhodes said. When there’s a large crowd, the staff redirects drivers from the parking lot find places to park.
However, attendance at some other parks, including Ludington and Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area in Lapeer County was slightly down.
“It’d be interesting to see if people went a little further north this year,” said Todd Farrell, the supervisor of Metamora-Hadley.
Seventy parks offer camping, which Holecek said is ideal for in-state vacationers.
“Because of the down economy, the industry has coined the term ‘stay-cations’, which is a relatively inexpensive and increasingly popular way for people to have a vacation without a lot of money,” Holecek said. “It’s a bargain product to have camping opportunities.”
Herta said gas prices also affect attendance, especially for distant places such as the U.P. But Holecek said that expensive gas doesn’t stop people from enjoying themselves.
“To make a trip from Lansing to Traverse City, another $50 to $75 on gas doesn’t make a huge difference if they have a $28,000 boat or camper to enjoy,” he said.
While the current situation may be bright, Holecek said Michigan’s state parks and tourism industry could be jeopardized in the long run without improving the highway systems.
“The thing I worry about as we move forward is the problem with highways. We need infrastructure investment because we can only mine our assets for so long,” Holecek said, citing an interconnection between highways and highway rest stops, park services and the quality of environment. “If these aren’t maintained, we’re going to be suffering.”
To Holecek, the increased elimination of services, such as rest stops, will severely hurt Michigan’s tourism industry.
“I think in the next two to three years, state parks will be an attractive option for a lot of people. But we have to keep people coming back,” he said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By ANGIE JACKSON