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Southeast Michigan Campgrounds Flourish

July 14, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Alan Taylor has seen attendance at his Taylor’s Beach Campground rise by 20% this year — and he thinks he knows the reason why. It’s the economy, reports The Detroit News

People looking to pinch pennies in these tough economic times are eschewing four-, five- and six-hour drives and instead opting to enjoy a rustic camping setting a little closer to home, said Taylor, whose 200-site campground is located in Howell, just west of Detroit. 

“Last year, the $4-a-gallon gas drove them to us,” Taylor said. “But we’re even busier than last year. With these economic times, campers are telling us they still need to save money. The further up north you get, the worse the campgrounds are hurting.” 

For the state, Memorial Day through the Fourth of July weekend is a bellwether of the camping season. State parks and forest campgrounds have about 13,500 campsites; so far, attendance is down about 6% from last year, said Harold Herta, Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokesman. 

If the trend continues, it could mean more than $1.5 million in lost revenue. 

“It’s critical for the parks and recreation division. We don’t get general fund money,” Herta said. “Our revenue stream is our campers.” 

Overall, travel is also on the decline. Statewide travel drops of up to 4% are expected this year, according to yearly projections from Michigan State University. 

Still, campground visits in southeast Michigan are on the rise, he said. 

“It tells me folks are staying closer to home,” Herta said. 

Another bright spot came over the July 4th weekend. Michigan state parks recorded a 94% occupancy rate — the best in three years. 

More vacation dollars and campsite fees end up in southeast Michigan, but it’s putting a strain on the northern resorts. 

“I’m not seeing the traffic that I used to,” said Barry Peters, owner/operator of the Big Cedar Campground and Canoe Livery in Germfask, 70 miles northwest of the Mackinac Bridge. “It’s the economy. People can’t afford to take vacations.” 

Most summers, White Lake resident Michael MacRitchie heads up to the Upper Peninsula for a week — sometimes more — of camping in the Manistique area. But this year, he’s ratcheting down his plans. 

“I’ll probably spend a few days at Holly (State Recreation Area),” said MacRitchie, 43. “But I’m not making a long trek this year. Gas is cheaper than it was last year, but it’s getting up there again. I’ll probably save at least $400 by staying closer to home.” 

People haven’t given up on outdoor recreation, they’re just more cautious on how much they’ll spend, said Charles Nelson, a forestry professor at Michigan State University. 

And getting away is even more important in these economic times, he said. 

“When you’re highly stressed at work, you need more than ever the freedom you have in the out-of-doors,” Nelson said. “With vacations, whether it’s close to home or still far away, we’re calling the shots. That’s something we can’t do too often.”

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