The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has seen exceptional results in increased funding for state parks through the Michigan Recreation Passport.

Implemented just last October, the recreation passport is a one-time purchase of $10 that drivers opt to participate in when renewing their license plates each year. The passport replaced state park entry fees for those who are a part of the program. The pass is also good for certain boat launches and recreation areas. (Click here for a list of parks.)

DNR Director Rodney Stokes said Michigan’s goal of 24.3 percent participation exceeded their expectation to reach 24.7 percent in its first year. The revenue for the fiscal year 2010 totaled $18,816,500. Just recently, the DNR was struggling to avoid closing some state parks because of inadequate funds. “We were just barely hanging on, so we did the passport to help augment that.” Stokes said. The money raised in the past year went toward some overdue repairs, park maintenance, basic care and park modernization.

Once the administrative, state parks operational and Michigan Water Ways budget totaling $13 million was disbursed, the breakdown of available funds is as follows (from the Mich. DNR website):

  • State Parks – Capital Outlay (50 percent): $3,043,250
  • State Parks – Maintenance (30 percent): $1,825,950
  • Local Park Grants (10 percent): $608,650
  • State Forest Recreation (7 percent): $426,055
  • Cultural/Historical Facilities in State Parks (2.75 percent): $167,379
  • Marketing (0.25 percent): $15,216
Michigan Recreation Passport holders are signified by the "P" on their license plate renewal tab. The proof of purchase is also denoted on your vehicle registration.

In 2011, Stokes hopes to reach a 30 percent participation rate. Increased participation may come through increased awareness of the program. Many people still ask “what’s that” when they hear of the Michigan Recreation Passport. “Overtime people will come to know that it’s good for the state,” said Stokes. “A lot of people don’t realize what the whole picture is so our job now it to promote as early as we can.”

In addition to supporting park maintenance, infrastructure, and staff, the DNR gives 1 out of every 10 dollars raised to local parks in the form of a grant. In 2010, 24 local recreation facilities received $600,000 for unique projects. Money was distributed in various amounts with no single amount exceeding $30,000 to renovate and construct facilities. Sports areas, fishing piers, playgrounds and day and overnight park amenities were installed all across Michigan.

Many Michigan businesses have signed up to participate in the “Passport Perks” program that is another incentive of the Recreation Passport. “Like Triple A, if you have membership, you have participating businesses that signed up to give discounts,” Stokes said. Recreation Passport holders can look through the list of Michigan businesses where they only have to show their vehicle registration to get discounts.

In recent years the DNR has seen a 15 percent reduction in staff to keep its operating system flowing. And while program participation has significantly helped the DNR, the department is forward thinking and is trying to spend money wisely to keep good things going. “We have repositioned ourselves,” Stokes said. “We’re not going back to some previous time. We want to set ourselves up so that we can operate as efficiently as possible before we reduced our staff. We’re trying to figure out, what is the most optimal staffing modal we can run to stay within our means?”

One thing is certain: it definitely starts with the Michigan Recreation Passport.

Find more links and contact information at the Michigan DNR’s homepage.

Photo: (Sanatorium) thedesignspace.net, (license tab) by author

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