My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

What a wacky idea!

I was up before dawn this morning, so I started reading the news as something to do while I waited to see what kind of day it is going to be before I decide what I am going to do today. That was a bad idea, for one of the first stories that caught my eye was “Officials unsure what DNR reorganization will mean for campgrounds, trails, and of course I had to read it, since I most often camp in State Forest campgrounds, and hiking is one of my favorite activities.

First, a little background. There have long been complaints that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was a huge bloated bureaucratic mess. That complaint even came from some of the people within the DNR. Back in the 1970’s, there was a push to split the DNR into two separate agencies, one charged with protecting the environment, and the other overseeing the State’s parks, hunting, fishing, timber, and so on. The idea was that the same agency that pushed for consumption of our natural resources, such as oil, timber, natural gas, etc, couldn’t be trusted to properly protect the environment at the same time.

Nothing happened with that idea until the 1990’s when then Governor John Engler did split the DNR, creating the Department of Environmental Quality, a move I supported. However, since Gov. Engler was a Republican, many environmental groups were all up in arms over that move, one that they had once pushed for. Our last governor, Jennifer Granholm, recombined the two agencies into one again, then the first of this year, our newest governor, Rick Snyder, split them again.

The way the different categories of our state’s parks have been managed has still been a mess, some managed by the Parks and Recreation Division, and some managed by the Forest Management Division, depending on what type of park it was. State Parks and some trails fell under the Parks and Recreation Division, State Forest campgrounds and some trails fell under the Forest Management Division.

The idea at one time was that the Forest Management Division would be somewhat self funded, with the money from the harvest of timber on state land funding that division. Of course that didn’t work out well. When the state implemented the Recreational Passport system last year, it required a complex formula for where the money from it went. Most went to the Parks and Recreation Division for the state parks, some is awarded to local governments for local parks, and the last part of the money goes to the Forest Management Division, earmarked for the State Forest campgrounds and recreational opportunities within the state forests.

This kind of mish-mash of a bureaucratic mess has long been one of my pet peeves. I have several lengthy posts started on the subject, don’t get me started on the Federal bureaucracy alphabet soup that controls our federal public lands.

One of the problems with these bureaucratic nightmares is how much money gets wasted with different departments billing each other , trying to use other departments to enhance their revenue stream, and turf wars between departments that often lead to protracted court battles.

Just a small example here, I have to try to stay focused, or this will become another lengthy draft that never gets finished. While overall I support the idea of splitting the DNR into the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality, one of the results is that the state has to license their own campgrounds. I understand the concept, some one has to make sure that our campgrounds are environmentally sound, and that responsibility has fallen on the DEQ, which requires that the DNR licenses the campgrounds, which the DEQ permits and inspects to make sure that the campgrounds do meet environmental standards. But the idea of the state buying a license from itself seems silly to me. That’s what happens when bean counters take over and reality as we know it ends.

Back to the news story. The story doesn’t recount where the idea originated from, but the DNR is going to be reconfigured somewhat. The Parks and Recreation Division of the DNR is now going to take control over the state forest campgrounds, trails in the state forests, and other recreational opportunities within the state forests.

The Forest Management Division will be split into the newly created Forest Resources Division and an Office of Land Management, which will oversee oil, gas, and mineral responsibilities, as well as real estate work currently in the Finance and Operations Division.

The news story hints that this was the brainstorm of the new Director of the DNR, Rodney Stokes. I applauded his appointment by Gov. Snyder last fall when the announcement of Mr. Stokes’ appointment was made public, he’s the most non-political Director of the DNR that Michigan has had in some time now.

The idea of combining all the state’s parks, campgrounds, trails, and recreational opportunities under one division makes sense to me, probably too much sense. Why have one set of campground managers in the Parks and Recreational Division, and another set in the Forest Management Division?

There will most likely be some wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, along with the funding issues that go with it. The state nearly shut down several of the state forest campgrounds this last spring as the state didn’t have the money to keep them open. That included my favorite campground, Round Lake State Forest Campground. I hope this new alignment of the DNR helps to put all our campgrounds and parks on stable financial footing.

This may require some tweaks to the Recreational Passport system, which did slightly better than it was projected to do as far as participation and revenue raised for our state parks. As I wrote above, there’s a complex formula for allocating the money raised by the system. And by the way, we need a lot more people to take advantage of that new recreational Passport system, word is that there is about 30% participation by Michigan residents, good, but not great. Ten bucks a year to get you into any state park or recreation area in the state? Come on people, we can do better than that. I know times are tough, but this is the best deal the state has come up with in my lifetime. Take advantage of it, support our state, our state and local parks, and get out there and enjoy yourselves!

Anyway, being the practical, results oriented person that I am, having all the state’s campgrounds managed by the Parks and Recreational Division of the DNR makes perfect sense to me, it’s one of those wacky ideas that just might work, the devil will be in the details as always though. There may even be problems with this idea in the form of pressure from the Federal Government. The Feds are already threatening the state with withholding federal dollars from several federal agencies over some land use issues each of the goobledy gook of federal agencies are pushing. For example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is threatening to cut off its funding to the State of Michigan because Michigan allows some equestrian use on lands purchased with Fish and Wildlife dollars.

Michigan’s State Forests were “assembled” by purchasing small tracts of land using funding from many sources, some of the parcels were purchased with federal dollars. Now the state is spending millions of dollars to identify where the funding for each parcel came from, and relocating equestrian camps and trails to parcels of land not purchased with money from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Because hunters are being pushed off from more and more federal and state lands, they are pushing back to stop any non-hunting uses of land purchased with their money. This nonsense of different factions all fighting over the public use of public land has got to stop, or pretty soon, all the money we pay in taxes, fees, and licenses will end up going to fight the battles over land use, and no money will be available to enhance our recreational opportunities. That’s the subject of another post though, one I should get around to finishing one of these days.

For now, I’ll just say that I really like the idea of combining all of Michigan’s parks, campground, trails, etc, under one division, it is a story I’ll be following closely.

I hope I haven’t bored every one to death with another of my rants, as always, thanks for stopping by!

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