As the Michigan stay-at-home order issued to combat coronavirus is lifted, the parks and recreation industry is working to safely manage an unprecedented spike in attendees.
State park attendance has increased enough that some parks were forced to close early on weekdays after the parking lots reached full capacity, said Ron Olson the chief parks and recreation officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
This is just one of the challenges park staff face as they prepare to open campgrounds and facilities on June 22 after usual summer preparations were put on hold during the hiring and non-essential work freezes, Olson said.
“We’re rapidly doing the de-winterizing activities, making the proper repairs and getting things up and running that would’ve been done a month or two ago,” he said. “We’re trying to do, probably, six weeks of work compressed into a couple of weeks.”
Some aspects of park management like mowing the grass may not be done as often as usual because safety and sanitation processes are currently the first priority, Olson said.
Lansing Parks and Recreation Director Brett Kaschinske has also noticed an increase in use of the 111 local parks and 16 miles of river trail he oversees.
Though the summer sports programs are cancelled and the public pools are closed residents still flock to the parks to run, walk or attend outdoor fitness classes.
“I think people are really seeing the benefit of getting out and just enjoying nature, enjoying that fresh air, because we were cooped up for a while,” Kaschinske said. “But that’s going to be the role of parks and recreation. To unify and bring people back together slowly and safely.”
As parks and campgrounds continue to open, it seems more people are also investing in camping and hiking gear.
Despite only being open for curbside pickup, Nathan Holt, the general manager of the East Lansing outdoor recreation retailer, Moosejaw, has noticed a significant increase in sales of gear like sleeping bags, tents and water filters.
“We hardly have any left and we haven’t been getting replenishment of inventory until just at the end of this past week,” he said. “It’s been crazy seeing our shelves become empty in a third of the store.”
Though gear sales have left sections of the store nearly empty, the clothing racks remain almost untouched.
Holt expects clothing sales to pick up when people can come see the items in store, and when new hobbyists look to upgrade in the future.
Sales aside, he encourages everyone to be respectful of each other’s safety while hitting the trails.
“The trails are out there for everybody to use,” Holt said. “So, I just encourage people to get out there but be safe and be respectful of other people’s concerns whether you feel safe or not.”
Olson said those who visit state parks this summer will be met with signs reminding them to practice social distancing and are encouraged to use masks in enclosed areas like indoor restrooms.
We've seen some questions over Recreation Passport requirements to enter state parks, trail locations, and boating access sites. The Recreation Passport is required again starting Monday, June 22. Additional info can be found here - https://t.co/6I0yHmkxIG #MiStateParks #MiDNR
— Michigan Department of Natural Resources (@MichiganDNR) June 19, 2020
The Michigan DNR said on Friday that the recreation passport will once again be required at state park entrances starting Monday, June 22.
Taylor's story is brought to you as part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.