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New State Park Fundraising System Tops Goal

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TRAVERSE CITY (AP) – Michigan’s new method of paying for state park operations and maintenance met its fundraising goal for the first year and is proving to be a reliable system, officials said Thursday.

Starting last October, residents were given the option of paying $10 for a “recreation passport” when renewing their vehicle registration. Good for a year, the passport grants access to all 98 state parks and recreation areas, plus boat launches. Under the old system, park visitors were charged $6 per day or $24 for an annual pass.

Revenue from passport sales has totaled nearly $18.9 million, the Department of Natural Resources said. The previous system had averaged $11.7 million annually over the past three years.

Officials said the change was needed because entry and camping fees hadn’t been covering the park network’s costs since it was dropped from the general fund budget – state government’s primary checkbook – in 2004. The money they raised was just enough for basic operations, creating a backlog of repairs and improvements that has reached $340 million.

The DNR said 24.7 percent of the state’s motorists participated in the license checkoff plan over the past year, just over the goal of 24.3 percent. Director Rodney Stokes said next year’s goal will be 30 percent.

“We think it has every indication of being a successful and stable source of revenue,” DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff said.

After covering operational expenses and reimbursing the Secretary of State’s office for administering the program, the DNR will spend about $3 million for capital projects such as new bathrooms and picnic shelters and $1.8 million for maintenance work – repairing broken sewer pipes and leaky roofs.

An additional $426,000 goes for state forest recreation facilities. More than $608,000 will be distributed as grants to local parks.

“Even if you think you will never go to a state park or enjoy one of our state forest campgrounds or trails, supporting the recreation passport is a good way to support your county, community or township parks,” Stokes said.

Legislation that created the program allows the DNR to raise the passport’s cost at the rate of inflation, but Dettloff said it would remain at $10 in 2012.

About 22 million people visit Michigan’s state parks every year and pump about $650 million into the economy by spending on food, fuel and other supplies, she said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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