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New Funding Source for Michigan State Parks

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Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm on March 31 signed into law the “Recreation Passport” legislation, which creates a new funding source for Michigan’s state parks, state recreation areas, state forest campgrounds, non-motorized trails and pathways and local parks, according to the White Lake Beacon.

The new law takes effect Oct. 1, meaning citizens who want to visit state parks this year will still need a 2010 Motor Vehicle Permit.

“This new method will create a sustainable funding source that will support our state parks and forests, as well as local recreational facilities,” said Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) Director Rebecca Humphries. “It also makes accessing recreational opportunities easier and more affordable for Michigan citizens.”

The Recreation Passport replaces the traditional state park and boating Motor Vehicle Permit (MVP), or “window sticker,” system in place now at state parks, recreation areas and boat launches. Motorists may choose to pay a $10 fee when they renew their vehicle plate registration. This fee will authorize entry into state parks and boat launches for the usual one-year period of the registration. Camping fees will remain in place.

When residents opt to pay the $10 passport fee, they’ll enjoy a per-vehicle savings of 58% over the current $24 annual Motor Vehicle Permit fee. “It is our hope that the less expensive fee will encourage all Michigan residents to buy the Recreation Passport for every vehicle they register,” said Recreation Division Chief Ron Olson. “Supporters will be integral in restoring the infrastructure of an aging state park and forest system, while supporting local parks and recreation systems at the same time.”

The DNRE’s Recreation Division lost all taxpayer support for its programs in 2004. Since then, park operations have been funded primarily from user fees. Currently, the state is able to address less than 1% of the critical infrastructure repair needs annually ($38 million needed) and about $4.8 million short of adequately funding day-to-day park operations.

Without an alternative funding structure in place, drastic cuts to park programs and services were inevitable, Olson said.

Revenue generated from the Recreation Passport depends on the level of participation from the public, Olson said.

Projected revenue based on participation includes:

  • 25% participation generates $18,060,000.
  • 50% participation generates $36,120,000.
  • 75% participation generates $55,180,000.
  • 100% percent participation generates $72,240,000.

This Recreation Passport initiative grew out of a proposal developed by the Citizens Committee for Michigan State Parks, to provide a more stable, sustainable funding source for state parks, which lost all general taxpayer support in 2004. Since then, state parks and recreation areas have operated primarily on user fees and by borrowing from funds intended for capital repairs and improvements.

For the 2010 calendar year, a Motor Vehicle Permit will still be required for entry to state parks, recreation areas and boating access sites. As citizens renew their vehicle registrations on and after Oct. 1, 2010, they will be offered the option to support state parks and recreation areas, state forests and boating access sites by paying an additional $10 toward their vehicle registration fee.

Out-of-state residents will still be required to purchase a $29 annual Motor Vehicle Permit, or $8 daily permit.

According to Olson, the signing of this new law is timely. In 2011, all fund balances in the restricted funds that operate state parks will be exhausted. “There are $38 million in annual unmet needs for failing infrastructure at our state parks that the current system cannot generate enough revenue to cover,” he said. “This new system will prevent the further decline of the state park and state forest system.”

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