Visiting a state park this weekend? We need your help!

Many Michigan families and visitors from other states will enjoy fireworks and festivities this holiday weekend at one of Michigan's 102 state parks.

Those campers will eat a lot of junk food. And that's fine - part of the fun of camping is indulging in plenty of chips, pop, hot dogs and s'mores.

But many people also visit the state parks to enjoy healthy physical activity and outdoor adventures like biking, swimming and kayaking. And those folks often want to refuel with more nutritious food choices.

That's why MEC and our partners in the Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan coalition recently commissioned a study of the food offerings from vendors at state parks. Michigan State University researchers visited a sampling of parks to see what items were available from camp stores, concession stands and vending machines. They also surveyed park visitors to find out what they think about the available food options.

A final report on the study is still in the works, but preliminary data clearly show how far the balance is tipped toward unhealthy foods at the parks. The researchers used the terms "go," "slow," and "whoa" to distinguish between foods that should be eaten often, occasionally and rarely. Of 12 concession stands studied, four offered only whoa foods as snacks, and the average was 86% whoa foods. Only one park concession stand offered any go foods as snacks. It was a similar story with camp stores: Again the average was 86% whoa foods, and only two out of 12 stores offered any go foods.

We've been meeting regularly to discuss this issue with leadership and staff at the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the parks. They have been quick to acknowledge there's room for improvement and helpful in exploring opportunities for working with vendors to make healthier foods available. They recognize that providing healthy food options is a natural extension of other initiatives focused on connecting our outdoors to health and wellness, such as MI Big Green Gym and Fresh Air Fit.

"The folks at DNR have been great partners on this issue," said Tina Reynolds, MEC's health program director. "We've been encouraged by the department's openness to new ideas, such as partnering with farmers markets to get fresh, local produce into the parks."

Reynolds said she hopes that by improving the food offerings in state parks, the DNR might provide best practices that local and county park systems can adopt to help provide healthy food options in every community. Gov. Snyder has made reducing obesity a big priority-Michigan is the tenth fattest state-and making our parks showcases for healthy eating and an active lifestyle is a good step in that direction.

Our discussions with the DNR have made one thing clear: Your voice matters. If you'd like to see more food options at the parks, please speak up. Here are three easy ways you can help:

  • Speak with the park supervisor. The best way to share your thoughts on food in the parks is to have a friendly conversation with the person in charge. Ask park staff where you can find the supervisor, and take a few minutes to share what you like about the park and what opportunities you see to improve the experience.
  • Fill out an online comment card. The DNR website allows you to search for the park you stayed at and leave a comment. Click here to give your feedback. You can provide details on changes you'd like to see, or simply say you think Michigan's state parks would be even better recreation destinations if more healthy food options were available. You may also be able to fill out a comment card by hand at the park.
  • Let us know. If you prefer, you can give your feedback to MEC, and we can pass it along in our next meeting with the DNR. Just send an email to [email protected]. In fact, even if you talk with the supervisor or fill out a comment card, please let us know. That will help us keep track of the feedback the DNR receives.
We hope you have an outstanding holiday weekend. Thanks for your help!


Photo courtesy Rachel Kramer via Flickr.

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