Reopening of rustic state campgrounds a good thing

In recent years, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources shut down numerous state forest campgrounds, including several in the Upper Peninsula, for reasons largely related to budget concerns.

These small, rustic campgrounds are favored by a segment of the public not attracted to the crowded campgrounds found at many of the region’s state parks.

State forest campgrounds are much quieter and have an adjacent stream or lake. State pathway trailheads are often found at or near state forest campgrounds. These campgrounds offer hand pumps for clean drinking water, vault toilets, a picnic table and a fire ring.

In 2007, 2009 and 2011, the DNR targeted numerous state forest campgrounds for closure, including many in the U.P. In some cases, the campgrounds remained open, in many others, they were shut down. More than a dozen state forest campgrounds still remain dormant in the U.P. today after those DNR ordered closures.

Among the factors cited by DNR officials for the closures included a trend in declining use, the inability of the state to reasonably raise camping rates any higher and still remain competitive and operational costs versus revenue, including declines in general fund appropriations.

However, a recent change has brought about new hope for reopening the campgrounds. Forest Recreation programs, including state forest campgrounds, were transferred to the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. State staff also created efficiencies to help make the campgrounds more revenue neutral.

DNR Director Keith Creagh recently ordered the reopening of four state forest campgrounds downstate and is considering opening five more, including three in the U.P. These re-openings or redesignations of campgrounds would be expected to benefit equestrians, paddlers and anglers, as well as the general public.

If the latest campground order is approved Thursday by Creagh, the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division would operate 133 campgrounds in state forests. Of those, 58 are situated in 12 of the U.P.’s 15 counties, including Marquette County.

We think the reopening of at least some of these campgrounds is great news for Michigan and about time. We never could understand how the cost of monthly water testing and garbage removal could be such a burden on the DNR budget. The fact the campgrounds have low use is good news.

We don’t think the state forest campgrounds should ever have been shutdown and we hope to see all of them reopened in the new future, and not just if a special interest group can justify new use of the camping areas.

As the DNR seeks to appease “stakeholder groups” organized for a purpose, the one constituent who still needs to be addressed is the silent angler or hunter who doesn’t belong to a stakeholder group, doesn’t attend DNR meetings or write letters to complain, who just wants a quiet place to camp and enjoy state forest lands.

We need these state forest campgrounds. We believe they add character to the region and the opportunities of those looking to get closer to nature through a quality camping experience. The sooner all of the campgrounds are reopened, the better.