HANCOCK TOWNSHIP - Judging by the increased number of day-use visitors to McLain State Park this season, Supervisor Leland VerBerkmoes said Michigan's new Recreation Passport program has been well received.
"Day use last week was up 32 percent over last year," he said. "The week before it was up 25 percent."
The passport program, which took effect Oct. 1, replaces the traditional motor vehicle permit system and allows annual access to all of Michigan's 98 state parks, recreation areas and 1,000 boat launches. Motorists can purchase the $10 passport ($5 for motorcyclists) from the Secretary of State's office when renewing their vehicle registration, or when visiting a state park.
Kristin Brusso, summer ranger at McLain State Park, greets Sierra Bishop of Lake Linden, who was visiting the park Wednesday afternoon. (DMG photo by Kelly Fosness)
Prior to the passport program, VerBerkmoes said Michigan residents paid $6 for a daily pass.
"You can't get a daily anymore, but for $4 more, you can get access for a whole year," he said. "I think people are starting to realize or will realize that it's a good deal for them."
VerBerkmoes said passport holders have a "P" indicator printed on their license plate tab, which park rangers check for at the park entrance booth or when patrolling the parking areas.
Those who purchase their passport from the park receive a small sticker, which is placed in the lower right-hand corner of the windshield.
"We are still encouraging people to do it at the Secretary of State's office because next year, it's going to cost you more if you buy it at the park," VerBerkmoes said. "It will be $15 (next year)."
The passport expires when the motorist's plate is due to be renewed, VerBerkmoes said, and because the program is only eight months in, those who have not had the opportunity to renew their license yet this year are allowed to visit the park at no charge.
"Once their plate comes up for renewal, and they've had a chance (to purchase a passport), then they'd be required to have it," he said. "This is our first year so we're trying to make it simpler."
According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, since the program took effect Oct. 1, more than one million Recreation Passports have been purchased, bringing in $10 million for the benefit of Michigan parks and outdoor recreation in general.
"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," Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said in a press release. "The Secretary of State's office is proud to team with the DNR as it strives to conserve, protect and promote our natural resources."
Baraga State Park Accounting Assistant Kelly Somero said another benefit for motorists who purchase recreation passports from the Secretary of State's Office, is they are eligible to receive discounts at businesses participating in the Passport Perks program.
She said there are more than 500 businesses in the state participating in the program, which rewards Recreation Passport holders with discounts or "perks" from participating businesses.
"So there's a lot of benefits with the new passport program," she said.
While Baraga State Park has seen an increase in the number of passport holders this season, Somero said there are some visitors who still have questions about the program.
In that case, she said, people can call their local state park for more information or visit michigan.gov/recreationpassport.
VerBerkmoes said non-Michigan residents can still purchase an annual pass for $29 or a daily for $8.
By and far, he said, the majority of Michigan residents are finding the new system is a good deal.
"Our hope and our goal is that more people will buy it," he said.
Sierra Bishop of Lake Linden who was visiting McLain State Park Wednesday afternoon, said her husband purchased the Recreation Passport when he renewed his license, and she would be once her plates are due in the upcoming months.
"I think it's a great program," she said. "It's definitely worth it."