WILSON TOWNSHIP - The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has lifted an order closing four state forest campgrounds, including one on Thunder Bay River in Wilson Township.
But that doesn't mean this coming summer will be a grand reopening for the local campground. It's been open for the past two summers under a pilot program where private concessionaires operate it, Harrisville, Negwegon and Rockport State Park Supervisor Eric Ostrander said. A kayak and canoe rental business owner will run the campground again in 2014.
"The whole thought of it was to have it physically open without Parks and Recreation (Division) staff having to do it." he said. "The division can still leave it open, and it's run by someone. We don't really have to take care of it day to day."
The NRC also reopened a campground near Twin Lakes in Cheboygan County, the Muskrat Lake campground in Oscoda County and another on Lake Marjory in Otsego County, Ostrander said. All four had been closed since 2009, when the department shuttered them due to budget issues.
In 2012, the owner of a Hubbard Lake canoe livery approached the Department of Natural Resources about running the 10-site campground on Thunder Bay River's southern branch as part of his business, Ostrander said. The department gave him a one-year special use permit to do so, and he had some success. For 2013, the department sought bids, and Adventureland Sports owner Erin Riopelle submitted the winning bid.
Unlike other state forest campgrounds, a Recreation Passport won't be required to camp at Thunder Bay River, Ostrander said. The DNR gave Riopelle some picnic tables and fire pits to get started, Ostrander said. She'll pay a per-night fee to the state to operate the campground, which includes a canoe and kayak launch.
While the Thunder Bay River campground has been open for a few years under the pilot program, the DNR needed to get the director's order that closed it nullified, State Parks Field Operations Chief Anna Sylvester said. The decision to reopen the other three was based on public demand.
"If the public wants it, we'll look at it and analyze if it's going to be a drain on the system, a financial burden," she said. "If not, we see if we can open it and make the public happy."
State forest campgrounds offer less amenities than those at state parks, Sylvester said. Each site has a table, fire ring, space for a tent or small camper, and the campground has hand-pump water wells and outhouses. Many state park campgrounds have modern bathrooms, showers, electrical hookups and sites for bigger RVs.
However, state forest campgrounds tend to be more quiet and secluded, Sylvester said. Plus, they're cheaper than state parks.
"It's a great way to connect with nature, and maybe even see some wildlife," she said.
Another state forest campground saved through local efforts is on McCollum Lake, on the Alcona-Oscoda county line northwest of Curran. When the DNR was considering closing the 20-site campground, Clinton Township officials stepped up and offered to run it.
The township has run the campground for three years now, and while it might not be a huge source of revenue, it does draw people to the area, Sylvester said.
"We all know that parks and recreation creates tourism dollars, and I know that a lot of communities don't want to lose that," she said. "That's part of the reason for reopening these campgrounds, to give local communities a boost."