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'P' is for passport, patience with state parks



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April 20, 2011 - By Bill Kalmar

It has been my experience that Michigan has some of the best state parks in the nation.  Having camped and vacationed in many of the parks I can personally attest to the cleanliness of the grounds and facilities, the friendliness and professionalism of the staff and the picturesque settings. 

Our favorite parks are in Grand Haven, Holland, Muskegon and Mackinaw City because of the proximity to Lake Michigan and the golden sands along the shore.

In past years, entrance to the parks necessitated purchasing a motor vehicle permit that was displayed on the passenger window side of the car.  Upon approaching the park ranger's station,  the individual on duty would observe the window sticker and wave you into the park.  Those without a permit would either purchase a daily pass or opt for a yearlong pass.  The process seemed to work flawlessly.

 Starting this season,  a new process is in effect.  At the time of the annual license plate renewal, Michigan residents have the option of requesting a state park Recreation Passport at a cost of $10 for each car.  No longer though will there be a window sticker.  It has been replaced by printing the letter "P" on the small colorful tag that is affixed to the license plate. 

At first glance this appears to be a major game changer when entering the parks.  Will it mean that the rangers will now have to look at the back of each car and truck entering to ascertain that the occupants have purchased the pass?  Or maybe it could be done with a series of mirrors – just kidding.  How's this for a suggestion:  maybe those with the "P" on their plate should just back into the park so the ranger can see it.

What about license plates that are encased in grime and mud?  Can we expect the rangers armed with a squeegee to clean our plate?   In any event,  I'm hoping the new procedure will not adversely impact what up until now has been a smooth operation.

 As such, I discussed the new process with Ron Olson, Chief of the Recreation Division of the Natural Resources & Environment Department and many of my concerns were alleviated.  I was told that cars will be allowed to enter any of the ninety-eight parks in the state mostly on the "honors system" thereby assuming that everyone has purchased a sticker.  Rangers will then inspect cars in the park looking for the "P" on the tag.  Those without the proper designation will be issued either a notice or a ticket.  Seems notices will be the preference during the first year.  Keep in mind that some cars and trucks will be entering the parks during Spring and Summer and the plates on their cars may not be up for renewal until later in the year which means there will not be a "P" on the tag. For instance, someone with a December plate renewal can visit the parks all summer and fall without any fee.  Rangers will not warn or ticket those cars. Those campers/tourists will have the option of purchasing a Recreation Passport when their current plate expires.

 In addition, there will be some drivers who, for whatever reason, decided not to purchase a $10 Recreation Passport at the time of their license renewal.  In that regard, the Recreation Passport can be purchased at the ranger station and other locations in the state.   I understand that over 8,000 have already been purchased in that fashion.   Non-residents will pay $29 for a yearlong pass and $8 for the daily. 

So as I looked at the new process the only word that came to mind was "patience" because I think there might be some growing pains.  There will be signage at park entrances explaining the new process to ease people into the new requirements.   Now I realize that there is cost consideration in adopting the new process and if it means we will have additional funding from Recreation Passport sales to maintain the parks, I am all for it!  Also,  the rangers who no longer have to remain at their entrance post all day will now be responsible for inspecting the grounds and interacting with campers more regularly which I think is a plus.  In addition, those who have purchased the Recreation Passport will be able to receive discounts at motels, golf clubs, restaurants, wineries, and ice-cream parlors by just displaying their automobile registration that contains the Recreation  Passport designation.  That will be a fair trade-off but I will be anxious to see first hand the effectiveness of the new procedures. So let's all be patient while the new process gets implemented. 

 In the meantime, with our own Recreation Passport affixed to our plate, we are ready to visit many of our scenic state parks.  I can already envision the aroma of the campfire along with roasting marshmallows wafting through the parks.   Last one in the water has to fetch more firewood.

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