State Rep. Questions Mich. DNR Request
A Cheboygan, Mich., lawmaker questioned a funding request for campground improvements in the wake of this month’s closure of 20 rustic campgrounds in northern Michigan, according to the Cheboygan Daily Tribune.
State Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, raised concerns Thursday (July 26) as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sought legislative approval to spend $500,000 on improvements for state forest campgrounds.
House Bill 4829, the appropriations measure for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund proposal, included more than $36 million for natural resources projects through September 2007. Among the 14 items, campground utility improvement is among the highest amounts with $500,000, said Elsenheimer, whose district includes most of Cheboygan County.
“I'm fully in favor of making our state forest campgrounds the best they can be to give people memorable experiences,” said Elsenheimer in a news release. “I just find it intriguing that the department decides to close almost two dozen facilities because of $75,000, but still wants a half million dollars for the same program. The only good news here is that the department must think the campgrounds they just closed have value, which makes me question why they shut them down in the first place.
“So, let me get this right, we're going to spend $500,000 to improve campgrounds we can’t afford to spend $75,000 to keep open – am I missing something? It’s like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing over there – this is the kind of stuff that drives our citizens nuts.”
Elsenheimer ultimately supported final passage of HB 4829.
The DNR earlier this year increased state campground fees, and eliminated senior discounts and weekly rates at cabins. Fees for designated campground sites went from $10 to $15 per campsite, per night; equestrian, off-road vehicle and semi-modern campgrounds saw an increase from $10 to $20 per campsite, per night. Designated group campground rates doubled from $3 to $6 per person, per night.
Elsenheimer has drafted HB 5075 to restore the fees to 2006 levels, which also would require Legislature approval on any future increase. A second part of the bill will allow interested local governments to operate state campground properties the DNR will no longer run.
Three primitive campgrounds in Cheboygan County were shut down in July. The DNR said the moves were made to save money.
The Trust Fund appropriation bill which passed the House this week will be used to purchase properties around the state and make improvements at various state campgrounds, such as renovations like new dump stations, vault toilets and water wells.
Under the state constitution, Trust Fund dollars can only be used for acquisition and development purposes, not operational or maintenance functions associated with state campgrounds.
After this week’s vote on the Trust Fund bill, Elsenheimer said he will consider a constitutional amendment to rectify future spending discrepancies by the department and the Trust Fund.