Michigan State Park Passport Program Reviewed

In an earlier post I reported that the Recreation Passport was available for residents of the great state of Michigan.

State officials say more than 1 million recreation passports for Michigan state parks have been bought since the program began eight months ago.

The announcement was recently made by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Department of Natural Resources Director Rodney Stokes.

The Recreation Passport Program allows Michigan residents to buy an annual state park entrance pass when they renew their vehicle license. It reduces the annual fee for residents from $24 to $10, $5 for motorcycles, and makes the pass a sticker that goes on the license plate.

Michigan’s recreation passport allows free entrance to 98 state parks and recreation areas and free use of 74 state boat launches where similar fees were charged in the past. The program was launched last October to provide stable funding for Michigan’s state park system.

If you are a non-resident, you must have a valid non-resident Recreation Passport which costs $29 per year or $8 per day.

State officials are banking on the public seeing the program as the New Deal. State parks lost all general fund tax support in 2002. Officials project the passport will improve park funding. The program is based on a successful Montana model that asks all car, truck, and motorcycle owners to support the program.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan. (Credit: planetware.com)

Michigan’s recreation passport may be in its infancy, but participation and feedback is positive, state officials say.

Users have hailed it as convenient and a good deal, MLive.com reports.

Michigan residents are increasingly supporting the program, according to data from the Secretary of State office, which tracks participation. State park officials are looking for a 12-month average of 24 to 25 percent participation this first year.

Seventeen percent participation is needed to break even and replace the $10.7 million that was collected under the old motor vehicle sticker system.

“We just got April numbers,” said Ron Olson, Michigan’s state parks chief with the Department of Natural Resources. “They were 23.8 percent in April, up from 22.5 percent the previous month. Every month (the number) has gotten better gradually. Our goal is 30 percent in 2012.”

Passport purchases were greatest in counties along Lake Michigan and in counties with state parks, according to Olson. Urban counties like Wayne were on the low end in terms of participation.

“They have a bigger population and more moving parts and a more diverse population than rural areas,” Olson said.

Ludington State Park, Michigan. (Credit: MI DNR)

The April report showed 20.9 percent of eligible drivers, on average, are participating in the program. Those percentages are expected to increase now that summer is here. So far, 930,170 passports have been sold, which generated more than $9.1 million for state parks. The fiscal year runs from October to October.

“We expect a lot of people will buy passes in June that may have forgotten,” said Olson. “We believe we will hit the 24 percent mark.”

Olson said park visitors who opted not to buy a passport when they renewed their plates can purchase a passport at any state park for $10. In 2012 the price will increase to $15; and $20 in 2013 for those who opt to buy later rather than when they renew their plates. Those who buy the passport when they renew their plates will continue to pay $10.

Park staff report they are hearing few complaints from customers. Some seniors indicate concern that the $10 passport fee is more than the $6 annual fee they paid in the past. But park officials believe the new Passport Perks program is likely to lessen those concerns. The perks program draws on 300 private business partners who offer discounts to those who have a Michigan Recreation Passport.

“Once they find out about Passport Perks, they can recoup that $4 in hurry,” said Pat Whalen, the acting head of Hoffmaster State Park.

State officials say it is too early to determine just how much will be raised and applied to backlogged maintenance projects at state parks. Those projects total $340 million.

But the hypothetical scenario if 24 percent of the eligible drivers buy the passport is that $2.1 million would go to state park capital outlay projects while another $1 million would go to park maintenance. Grants to local community parks would total $355,000.

Another $248,000 would go to the state forest recreation program, which is in the process of closing many of its rustic campgrounds. Cultural and historical resources would get $97,000 while passport marketing would get $7,000.

Worth Pondering…
Whether you stay six weeks, six months, or six years, always leave it better than you found it.

—Jim Rohn Enhance

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