Park passport system has pros and cons

Jun 9, 2011


This year, the state has a new system for vehicle access to state parks. The old state park sticker for the front windshield has been replaced by a “Recreation Passport” that gives a vehicle access into all state parks, state recreation areas and state boat launches. Camping fees are extra, as they were in the past.

When you renew your license plate and purchase the passport, your new tab will have a special “P” printed on it. The passport costs $10, which is a big savings from the previous $24 fee for an annual state park window sticker.

There are pros and cons to this new system.

The obvious positive is the cost savings. Not only is it cheaper, but if you have more than one vehicle, you can get passports for both of them cheaper than one old sticker used to cost. In the past, we had to always take the same car to the beach; and if one of us had the car with the sticker, the other had to pay the daily rate, walk in from a far away free parking spot, or just not go to the beach.

There’s also the added convenience of getting state park access taken care of at the same time you’re renewing your vehicle license tabs. It’s nice to see government efficiency in action.

I also like to see Michigan residents who live here and pay taxes here year-round getting some kind of bonus. We welcome tourists, of course — but it is nice to know that our state park access is less expensive and easier to acquire because of our state residence.

The lower cost and ease of purchase also has revenue benefits for the state. It wasn’t long ago that state government budget negotiations had state parks and recreation areas on the table for cuts and sale to private parties. The new passport program, with its lower cost and ease of purchase, will encourage more residents to take advantage and raise more income for the state park system.

Also, if more people use the parks more often, the case can be made that we should keep the park land in state hands.

The only cons seem to be the administration of the new system — at least so far. Recently, at the annual kite festival and on Memorial Day, the lines to get into Grand Haven State Park were backed up to Chinook Pier, and even as far as U.S. 31 at times. It could be that more people are using the parks than ever before.

The fact is, in this first year of implementation of the new program, people can get in without a passport until the month their license tabs are due for renewal. In other words, if your license doesn’t renew until September, you don’t need to have a little “P” on your tab until you’ve had the opportunity to pay the $10 for it.

But I also think we’re seeing a problem I anticipated when the program was announced. A little “P” in less than 8-point type is hard to see. It’s also on the back of the car, instead of the front. So now, instead of rangers seeing your sticker and waving you on at the booth, they have to ask each and every driver if they have a Recreation Passport. Multiply this times a few hundred and that backs up traffic — especially since lots of people don’t read newspapers and have to have the new program explained to them.

A news release last month from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources noted that each park will handle this differently. Some may let everyone drive right in, and rangers will check cars for tabs later and ticket those without a passport. Others will be asking for them at the booth. The problem with the first is that a lot of people who haven’t paid will knowingly or not just enter the park. The problem with the second is the added time at the park entrance.
I would suggest new signage that explains what the little “P” is, and direct drivers to enter the park if they have the passport and stop at the booth if they don’t — that would be a big help to alleviate congestion.

The passport is supposed to make our recreation easier, not add to time in traffic.

— By Tim Penning. His columns and other thoughts can be read on his PierPoints blog:


john ennenga

Hi Tim,
I read with interest your recent article regarding the new state park Recreation Passport. While you mentioned the savings of $14.00 over last years park sticker price, you neglected to mention the 70% increase in cost to us seniors over last years fee! Was this just an oversite?? I'm sure most seniors aren't even aware that their cost to enter the state parks has increased by $4.00 this year. It would be interesting to learn what the difference of seniors vs non-seniors was, based on last years figures. Do you have that information? John


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