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Michiganders would get first dibs on state campgrounds under bill

Michiganders would get first dibs on state campgrounds under bill
As Michigan’s state parks and forests have ballooned in popularity in recent years, reserving a campsite can be a tough ticket. But a proposal recently put forward in the Michigan House of Representatives aims to give state residents a small boost over out-of-staters when it comes to securing a spot.

House Bill 5597, introduced by Rep. Cam Cavitt, R-Cheboygan, would give Michigan residents a two-week head start on reserving a campground, shelter, cabin, yurt, or lodge at a state park or forest before reservations could be opened to non-residents.

In a statement, Cavitt cited the popularity of Michigan’s state parks and forests, noting that many reservations fill quickly once they’re available. In Michigan, campers can book a reservation six months in advance. By early January, around a third of campsites at one of Michigan’s state parks and forests were already booked, Bridge Michigan reported.

There were over 35 million visitors to Michigan’s state parks and over 1 million nights spent camping there in 2020, according to the DNR.

“It’s great to see so many people interested in camping in Michigan. But some of our most popular parks fill up so quickly that state residents have less than 20 minutes to get a spot before they’re gone,” Cavitt said.

“There should be perks to living in Michigan. People who pay taxes that contribute directly to the quality of the parks should be able to get first dibs in vacationing to those parks. Camping is supposed to be relaxing. Michigan families shouldn’t have to plan their vacations by huddling around a computer in December and praying for a nice campsite.”

Other states have considered and adopted policies allowing their residents to get first priority for campgrounds — starting this year, Florida residents get a 30-day priority window to reserve spaces at state parks. Wyoming gives residents seven days of priority reservation time ahead of non-residents for state campgrounds.

Cavitt’s bill is not a new proposal in Michigan. During the 2021-22 legislative session, former Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, sponsored a bill to give priority to Michigan residents for reserving campgrounds at state parks. That bill made it out of committee, but never received a vote in the House.

At the time, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources opposed the bill, an analysis from the House Fiscal Agency shows. The DNR oversees campgrounds at Michigan’s 103 state parks as well as 140 state forest campgrounds.

Officials argued giving priority to residents could damage towns and regions reliant on tourism driven by state parks and forests, with the potential to “send a message that the state is not as welcoming to guests as to residents.”

DNR officials testified in 2022 that 89% of reservations were made by Michigan residents, compared to 11% of reservations made by non-residents.

The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee for further consideration.

Contact Arpan Lobo: Follow him on X (Twitter) @arpanlobo.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Bill would give Michiganders first call on reserving state campgrounds

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