Conservation, Recreation, Business and Local Government Groups Urge Passing of Recreation Passport Bills

Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is part of a large conservation, recreation, business and local government collation urging the Michigan Legislature to pass House Bills 4486, 4775 and 4776 to change the Recreation Passport Program to an opt-out model as intended, resulting in increased funding for state and local parks and trails. These bills are before the House Transportation Committee.

Here’s what MIRS reported on 10/14/19:

Chair Ready To Check The Box For Recreational Passport Opt-Out

© MIRS News, mirsnews.com

By switching Michigan’s Recreational Passport to an opt-out program, rather than the current opt-in, when drivers fill out their vehicle registration application forms, Rep. Gary HOWELL (R-North Branch) believes it will “make people think carefully about this incredible bargain.”

“It is $11 at the Secretary of State. If you buy it at the park, it is $16. If you buy just a one-day pass it is $7. So $11 to get you in 100 some state parks and all these other facilities is probably the greatest recreation bargain in the United States of America,” Howell told the House Transportation Committee.

Chair Jack O’MALLEY (R-Lake Ann) plans to call a vote on the bills Tuesday.

“I talked with Rep. Howell with regard to how it will appear to make sure that it is very clear to everybody. The Secretary of State has come back with a mock-up and I’m comfortable that it is going to be very noticeable that you have to check a box,” O’Malley said. “. . . It’s right there. It’s plain.”

Howell’s  HB 4486 and  HB 4775 would change the program over to what he calls the Montana model, opt-out rather than opt-in, as well as increase the share of Recreational Passport revenue that would be made available for grants to local parks from 10% to 15%. Rep. Rebekah WARREN‘s (D-Ann Arbor)  HB 4776modifies definitions to make the program work. (“Howell, Warren Backing Recreation Passport As Opt-Out,” 6/26/19).`

Right now, 33% of drivers choose to pay the fee.

“If by doing this we could change that to say 50%, what we would do is take the revenue from $29 million up to $44 million,” Howell said. “If we were as successful as Montana, which gets 80% participation, say we got 75%, it would take the money to $66 million and all of that would be done without raising the fee. The fee would remain as it is today. It is a rare thing that you can acquire more revenue potentially without raising fees.”

And in combination with the percentage increase for local parks, a 50% participation rate would boost the money available for grants from $1.5 million to $5 million.

“We have what, I believe, is the crown jewel of state parks in the United States of America. We have incredible parks like Hartwick Pines, Belle Isle, Mackinac Island, Porcupine Mountains. The list goes on to over 100 parks that are a source of pride for our state, but also are a group of parks that are in need of substantial maintenance and capital improvements to preserve the natural resources in those parks,” Howell said.

Conner SPALDING, of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the parks help boost tourism.

“In 2017, tourism brought in $2.7 billion in state and local taxes and pumped in over $24 billion into our economy. Tourism is a top three industry in the state of Michigan. One of the reasons why Michigan’s tourism industry is so powerful is because we are blessed to have an abundant amount of lakes, trails and parks. These don’t just help to attract out of state tourism but pushes for in-state tourism as well,” Spalding said.

Chris HACKBARTH, of the Michigan Municipal League, said the local grant program from the Recreational Passport is “one of the ways where the state has stepped up to the plate and provided resources” for local units to fund important projects.

He gave, as an example, the list of projects South Haven has been able to do through the grant program, including opening up new lakefront property, adding miles of bike/pedestrian lanes, adding dozens of new park amenities, adding a handicapped accessible kayak launch space, improving marina operations, and creating a regional park with access to Lake Michigan.

Chuck NELSON, who was a member of the Citizens Committee for Michigan State Parks that came up with the Recreational Passport originally, contended that the program has been a success, but the parks have more responsibilities today.

“The responsibilities for forest recreation were transferred by the Department of Natural Resources from the then Forest Management Division to the state park system, so literally 139 forest campgrounds, that don’t fully pay for themselves; the non-motorized trail system, where none of the users have to pay a fee to use the system; and a lot of boating access sites that never had a fee, these have also been transferred over to Parks and Recreation Division. This is a great way for folks who canoe, kayak, ride a horse, ride a mountain bike, walk, run, cross country ski to functionally contribute to the maintenance of the system they depend on,” Nelson said.

Warren told the committee the original idea of the passport was for it to be an opt-out program. Changing it to an opt-in was a compromise at the time.