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Michigan camping reservations are up again after record year in 2021

Tent and hammock in wooded campsite
Courtesy
/
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
This campsite can be found in Muskegon State Park.

Even though it’s just the beginning of spring, the time is now to book campsites across state parks.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources allows visitors to reserve sites six months out, so that means bookings are available throughout the summer months.

Ron Olson is the Chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with him about some popular and off-the-beaten path sites for Michiganders to check out.

Interview Highlights

On the number of reservations the DNR has seen so far this year

They've been running between six and eight percent above last year at this time of year. That wobbles around some because as you indicated, people do book six months out, so six months from now versus six months from a month ago is a different timeframe. So, we're starting to get six months out into the latter part of the summer and early fall type of period. So, on the big holiday weekends last year, we were running over 95% occupancy which is really on a very, very high end of that sort of thing.

On some of the alternative stays the DNR offers

We do have mini cabins too that are small. We've embarked upon a program to, we call them, "reimagining." We've modernized a lot of them and improved the paint, the bedding and reorganized them better based on the demographics of use. We also have a new thing that we tried last year partnering with two companies that are providing safari tents, and we have a geodesic dome. So, we are trying to expand our variety of venues for people from very modern kind of cabin experience to a very rustic experience.

On if park staffing shortages will affect people's stays

While we do have challenges and we are looking to, you know, fill out our complement of what we call short-term workers to fill out our summer employment capacity, we are looking at other ways to take care of getting the services and work done that needs to be done. So, I think that, you know, by and large, people will not, should not see a real difference in the service that we provide.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: Even though it’s just the beginning of spring, the time is now to book campsites across state parks.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources allows visitors to reserve sites six months out, so that means bookings are available throughout the summer months.

Ron Olson is the chief of Michigan’s parks and recreation department with the DNR. He joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Ron Olson: Thanks for having me on.

Saliby: The state saw a record number of camp night reservations last year. Does it seem like this year we'll hit new highs when it comes to Michiganders heading outdoors?

Olson: Everything seems to be pointing towards a strong 2022. Our reservations are up. They've been running between six and eight percent above last year at this time of year. That wobbles around some because, as you indicated, people do book six months out, so six months from now versus six months from a month ago is a different timeframe.

Everything seems to be pointing towards a strong 2022. Our reservations are up.

So, we're starting to get six months out into the latter part of the summer and early fall type of period. So, on the big holiday weekends last year, we were running over 95% occupancy which is really on a very, very high end of that sort of thing. So, you know, some of the weekends will be virtually full.

Saliby: What parks would you maybe recommend to beginner campers?

Olson: Well, a lot of that depends on where you live. One of the things in Southeast Michigan, there are parks like Holly Recreation Area that has a wonderful campground and has some of the best campsites that we have in the system. And it's really nearby a lot of population centers.

We also have Pontiac Lake and Highland Recreation Area and on the other side, Waterloo Recreation Area, Brighton. They all have nice camping venues. And then as you go further north, obviously depending on if you're over near Grand Rapids, it's a challenge to get into Grand Haven, but there's Muskegon State Park and P.J. Hoffmaster and then South Holland.

What I would recommend is people pick a place that's relatively nearby where they are, and then they can get used to the scene and what to expect and things like that.

And those are all nice areas in and of themselves, but what I would recommend is people pick a place that's relatively nearby where they are, and then they can get used to the scene and what to expect and things like that. And then it makes it easier to venture to a further, more faraway destination.

Saliby: For those who are more experienced, would you recommend any rustic sights that are often overlooked?

Olson: Oh yeah. We have 140 campgrounds in the state forest that are primarily what you would call the "Knuckles North" or from Clare north. There are an abundance of them, and there's many of those depending on the kind of venue you'd like.

Some are along Lake Superior. Some are along the Lake Huron area, like up near the eastern U.P. There's many along the rivers like the Au Sable River and things like that.

Virtually all of them have some kind of water feature nearby them either a small lake, pond or a river.

So, it really depends on the kind of environment that you're looking for if you want to be near water. And most of them are, virtually all of them have some kind of water feature nearby them either a small lake, pond or a river.

Saliby: I know there are some unique stays like yurts and mini cabins. Can you speak on some of these, you know, stays that are a little bit different than what you might typically expect?

Olson: We have yurts scattered around. We have them at the Porcupine Mountains. We have one at Waterloo Rec Area and another one at Pinckney and so on. They're very popular. But then, you know, we do have rustic cabins that we have that are available for people. They don't have a lot of accommodations, but they're nice.

We do have mini cabins too that are small. We've embarked upon a program to, we call them, "reimagining." We've modernized a lot of them and improved the paint, the bedding and reorganized them better based on the demographics of use.

We also have a new thing that we tried last year partnering with two companies that are providing safari tents, and we have a geodesic dome. So, we are trying to expand our variety of venues for people from very modern kind of cabin experience to a very rustic experience.

Saliby: I have seen the department is facing some staffing shortages when it comes to both maintenance work and programming like education events. How is that going to affect stays at Michigan campsites this year?

Olson: Well, we try to not let the staffing become an issue for our customers where our goal is to provide excellent service, to provide a clean, safe atmosphere for everybody to enjoy themselves.

And so, while we do have challenges, and we are looking to, you know, fill out our complement of what we call short-term workers to fill out our summer employment capacity, we are looking at other ways to take care of getting the services and work done that needs to be done.

So, I think that, you know, by and large, people will not, should not see a real difference in the service that we provide.

Saliby: Ron Olson is the chief of Michigan's Parks and Recreation Department with the DNR. Thank you for joining me.

Olson: Thank you very much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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