By JOHN PEPIN
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh is scheduled to decide today whether to reopen or change designations at five state forest campgrounds, including three in the Upper Peninsula.
The decision is expected during a meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission today in downstate Roscommon. Creagh recently ordered the similar openings of four state forest campgrounds downstate after requests from interest groups.
The Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee passed a resolution supporting the campgrounds reuse at its meeting in February. DNR division chiefs are also recommending the sites be reopened for recreational purposes.
"By reopening these closed campgrounds, it is anticipated that a small profit will be generated or the revenue will be neutral," the chiefs wrote in their recommendation.
The proposed changes are expected to benefit equestrian groups, boaters and anglers.
The five campgrounds under consideration in the new order include Headquarters Lake in Luce County, Cedar River North in Menominee County, Little Brevoort south in Mackinac County and downstate at Big Oaks in Montmorency County the Forks campground in Grand Traverse County.
State forest campgrounds are not state parks. They are rustic campgrounds, with an adjacent stream or lake. State pathway trailheads are often found at or near state forest campgrounds. These campgrounds offer hand pumps for clean drinking water, vault toilets, a picnic table and a fire ring. A recreation passport is required for entry.
Under the proposed order, the campground at Headquarters Lake -which closed because of budget cuts in 2009- would be reopened and designated for equestrian use.
"This campground will provide an equestrian experience for the Newberry Trail system," DNR division chiefs said. "It will also provide a camping and riding experience desirable to the equestrian community in the eastern Upper Peninsula."
Cedar River North is currently open, but the order would designate the campground for horse riders.
"By designating this campground for equestrian use, it will allow for the proper use and occupancy of this site because it is currently used by equestrian campers," the chiefs wrote.
Creagh said the state forest campground reuse is part of a larger attempt to provide greater opportunities for horse riders in the region.
"We've have a long relationship with the equestrian industry. I'm not sure we've always strategically partnered with the equestrian industry," Creagh said. "As we open up these state forest campgrounds, we actually have had staff talking with them to see is there a way to have a broader based equine riding system across the Upper Peninsula."
That effort could create wider benefits for the area.
"Those are the type of activities that people come to an area and they stay a week, they don't just spend a day," Creagh said. "And so if we can increase that riding experience with some of the equestrians, I think we can help in the Upper Peninsula with that."
The state forest campground at Little Brevoort Lake was closed in 2009 and would be reopened only for boating access purposes.
"This is due to the lake having a non-motorized policy and the location of the site will assist boaters and fishermen utilizing the lake," the chiefs wrote.
The site would be renamed the Little Brevoort South Boating Access Site. With no camping allowed and only reopening for boating, a recreation passport would not be required.
Downstate, the Forks campground would be reopened at the request of paddlers, with the site important to the Boardman River Water Trail. The Big Oaks campground would be reopened to help connect equestrians with riding experiences nearby.
Forest Recreation programs, including state forest campgrounds, were transferred to the Parks and Recreation Division. State staff also created efficiencies to help make the campgrounds more revenue neutral.
In 2007, 2009 and 2011, the DNR closed numerous state forest campgrounds, including many in the Upper Peninsula,
Several factors were cited by DNR officials for the closures including a trend in declining use, the inability of the state to reasonably raise camping rates any higher and still remain competitive and operational costs versus revenue, including declines in general fund appropriations.
"As we moved state forest campgrounds into Parks and Rec, that really then helped more with the recreation model and tied them into a funding source that's a little bit more predictable for recreation with the Rec Passport, with the Park Endowment Fund and just that entire philosophy," Creagh said.
If the new order is approved, the DNR's Parks and Recreation Division would operate at total of 133 campgrounds in state forests. Of those, 58 are situated in 12 of the U.P.'s 15 counties.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen state forest campgrounds remain closed in Alger, Chippewa, Dickinson, Iron, Luce, Mackinac and Marquette counties.