Environment Picture

Recreation Passport: Your $10 ticket to Michigan’s parks, boat launches and more

New program replaces window stickers, aims to raise revenue
A ten dollar bill barely covers the cost of a movie ticket. But ten bucks now gets you an entire year of access to Michigan’s boundless outdoor recreation opportunities, from hiking the rugged Porcupine Mountains to cross-country skiing in Metro Detroit and sunbathing on a Lake Michigan beach.

Michigan’s Recreation Passport is a new model for funding state parks, recreation areas, forest campgrounds and boat launches. It took effect Oct. 1, 2010, replacing the former state park windshield sticker.

Getting a passport is easy: Motorists need only check “yes” when renewing their license plate tabs. The $10 fee is a significant savings over the $24 cost of the annual window sticker sold in previous years. Camping fees remain in place, and out-of-state visitors will continue to pay $29 annually or $8 per day.

The new system also will fund small grants for local parks and includes a perks program in which local businesses offer discounts for park visitors.

“The Recreation Passport is a win for everyone,” said Rebecca Humphries, who recently retired as director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. “It creates a sustainable funding source that our state parks, forests and local recreation resources have long needed and also makes it easier and more affordable for Michigan residents to enjoy those recreational opportunities.”

The passport idea is based on a successful program in Montana, where roughly 80% of vehicle owners have paid $4 to support parks. However, there’s an important difference between the programs: Montana residents automatically pay the fee unless they opt out, while Michigan will only collect fees from those who opt in.

Still, if half of Michigan’s drivers check “yes,” the program will net more than $35 million. DNRE officials say that’s enough to cover park operations and some much-needed repairs, along with $2.3 million in grants for local parks and $600,000 for historic and cultural sites within state parks.

“There aren’t many other examples where you can make a 60% cut to a government fee and have things work better than they did at the higher rate,” said Chuck Nelson, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who sat on the committee that created the passport plan.

The projected funding influx can’t come too soon for Michigan’s park system. It needs $38 million in immediate repairs and infrastructure improvements, with a backlog of necessary fixes totaling $340 million. Non-motorized trails need a lot of work, and DNRE closed 12 state forest campgrounds in the spring of 2009 due to budget shortfalls.

The park system used to be funded largely by the state General Fund, the tax revenue that covers most traditional state services. But since 2004, the park system hasn’t seen a dime from the fund. For years, the parks have limped along on camping and window-sticker fees, along with a slice of restricted funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

 “It’s absolutely crazy for the General Fund not to support the parks system,” said Chris Graham, who was on the committee that proposed the passport. Graham is also chairman of the Michigan Environmental Council Board of Directors. “The parks give a huge boost to local contractors, vendors, suppliers and retail businesses.”

Nelson agreed.

“It’s interesting that camping fees are still the biggest funding source for state parks, especially when you note that only one in six users of the state parks camps in them,” said Nelson. “It became clear that we needed a funding source that includes a bigger segment of park users.”

Nelson said Michigan’s entire economy, and not just outdoor enthusiasts, benefits from the parks.

“Each park is kind of an individual economic engine,” he said, noting that the parks add $650 million to the state’s economy every year. “They bring lots of people into Michigan and move money from wealthy parts of the state to local economies that need it. And communities near parks really get their identity from those parks.”

DNRE Recreation Division Chief Ron Olson said that, in addition to bolstering Michigan’s economy, our parks help plant the seeds for a healthier environment in the future.

“Great parks are a big part of the fabric that makes a great state,” he said. “If kids get out and participate in the parks, they grow into the future environmental stewards who will protect Michigan’s natural resources 20 or 30 years down the road.”
-Andrew McGlashen, MEC
RELATED TOPICS: conservation
© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved