MARQUETTE - The Michigan Secretary of State's office recently announced that sales of the new Recreation Passports, which allow entry to state parks, recreation areas and boat launches, have topped one million.
The sales of the $10 passports have brought in $10 million in eight months to benefit the state's parks and outdoor recreation areas.
"Many people are discovering what a tremendous value the Recreation Passport is-and in buying one, they are helping preserve our parks for future generations," said Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. "The Secretary of State's Office is proud to team with the Department of Natural Resources as it strives to conserve, protect and promote our natural resources."
The Passports replace the old window sticker system and allow annual access to all of Michigan's 98 state parks and recreation areas and 1,000 boat launches for just $10 ($5 for motorcycles).
The passports can be purchased at the time motorists renew their vehicle registration with the Secretary of State, or when visiting a park. Motorists who elect to buy a Passport have a "P" indicator printed on their license plate tab, which park rangers will check for either at the entrance booth or in the parking areas.
"Our great partnership with the Secretary of State and her personal commitment to the success of the Recreation Passport shows in the sales numbers, which are on target to meet our projections," DNR Director Rodney Stokes said. "Michigan residents are passionate about outdoor recreation, and we continue to see strong support for the Recreation Passport across the state."
Johnson said with summer arriving, she expects that more Secretary of State customers who are renewing their registration will take the opportunity to purchase a Recreation Passport.
"Michigan's state parks and recreation areas are wonderful destinations for residents and visitors alike," Johnson said. "I encourage anyone who loves the great outdoors to get a Passport, pick some parks and explore our state!"
The Recreation Passports are combining with an improving economy and higher gas prices as factors which may result in a big year for camping in the state. So far, reservations at private and state campgrounds are up by as much as 18.5 percent over last year, according to a recent Detroit news report. DNR officials reported boat slip reservations were up about 15 percent.
"With the economy showing signs of improvement, we think people are feeling more confident about planning their vacations," said Mary Dettloff, DNR spokeswoman in Lansing.
According to the Associated Press, the state's seasonally adjusted jobless rate in March was 10.3 percent, down three percentage points over the past year. Meanwhile, higher gas prices could contribute to Michigan residents deciding to stay closer to home for their summer vacation plans.
"When gas prices get higher, we know campgrounds become an increasingly popular destination," said Nancy Cain, spokeswoman for AAA Michigan. "We know we're seeing more interest among people planning their vacations further out, whether it's closer to home or longer destinations."
Michigan has 98 state parks and recreation areas, along with six state forests.
"It's a cheaper way to go on vacation if you stay within Michigan and don't have to fly somewhere," Tom Bemiss, a 48-year-old plant manager from Macomb County's Macomb Township. He made his first camping trip of 2011 recently at Algonac State Park near Marine City.
"Nowadays, if you want to get into a decent campsite ... you can't just wait until a month before you go to book it," he said. "It'll be too late."
Last year, Michigan started giving residents the option of paying $10 for the Recreation Passport in addition to their vehicle registration fee. The passport grants access to state parks and recreation areas, plus boat launches, for less money than in previous years.
Rates for renting camping or RV spaces have stayed the same. Meanwhile, some private campgrounds also are seeing increasing interest.
"One of the trends we're seeing is we have more people calling for seasonal sites - for stays of one to two months - at our campgrounds," said Tracie Fisher, executive director of the Frankenmuth-based Michigan Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds.
Reservations are up, she said, but not as much as being seen by the state.
DNR officials said some of the proceeds from Recreation Passport sales will also aid Michigan's rustic state forest campgrounds. Stokes had recently considered shutting down 23 of those campgrounds, including 15 in the Upper Peninsula.
A range of measures were instituted to keep those camps open and operating at least through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.
For more information on the Recreation Passport, visit www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.