What’s the Deal With Camping in MI?
May 20, 2020
As springtime temperatures rise and Michiganders grow restive from two months of COVID quarantine and Netflix saturation, many would welcome a chance to spend a few days and nights out under the stars. Getting away from it all, to shelter in place in a tent or camper at the state’s (plentiful) forests and campgrounds.
Too bad for them.
According to a directive on the state government coronavirus restrictions website FAQ page –
Q: “May campgrounds remain open under (Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order)?
A: “In general, No.”
The blanket camping ban applies as well to 2.8 million acres of state forest and two-thirds (details below) of Michigan’s similarly-sized national forest.
It is an unsettling, and somewhat puzzling, situation for the millions of outdoor enthusiasts who consider campfires and sleeping bags a go-to option to deal with the stress of hectic everyday life. Not to mention the owners of hundreds of local campgrounds and dependent businesses that depend on Michigan’s tourism industry for their livelihoods.
“If we can’t open up by May 28, I’m going to have to cancel reservations,” said Michelle Wilcox, who owns the Gateway Park Campground in Hillsdale.
“We should be at full capacity. And if we can’t open, the prospects are frightening.”
Wilcox and the proprietors of many other camping-dependent operations say the government’s proscription on overnight outdoor recreation makes little sense.
“Camping can be done safely,” she said. “Everybody is adjusting. We have remote check-in. We’ve closed the (communal) areas. It’s not hard to enforce social distancing.”
Not to mention, significant evidence that the outdoor transmission of COVID 19 is rare.
State and federal authorities have nonetheless mostly banned overnight campers throughout the state, both on public and private lands.
Ron Olson, director of Parks and Recreation for the Michigan DNR, said state officials considered trying to carve out some exceptions, but ultimately decided that “camping is not essential.”
As it currently stands under Whitmer’s executive orders, state park campground will be closed until at least June 21, state forest campgrounds until June 9 and dispersed camping (which, under normal circumstances, allows overnight stays on state forest land) until May 28.
The latter restriction may be the most puzzling, because dispersed campers are by definition those who eschew communal settings, preferring to get away from other people.
But Olson said because of limitations on state enforcement manpower and other considerations, state officials “just decided to ban it all, whether it makes sense or not.”
Dispersed camping is also prohibited on 1.9 million acres of national forest land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Although not on nearly 1 million acres in the Huron-Manistee National Forest in lower Michigan.
National Forest campgrounds remain closed throughout the state until at least the end of May.
Forest Service employees from both peninsulas said they could not explain the discrepancy on dispersed camping, beyond the fact that each regional forest has a different administration.
Uniform adherence to the regulations are also absent from private campground facilities.
Despite the state’s apparent blanket ban, some private RV parks said they are welcoming campers. One in northern lower Michigan told paychecktalk.com, “We’ll be opening normally on May 15th,” albeit with a closed shower house, playground and laundry, and social distancing.
At some locations, campground operators have chosen to announce they will accept campers who fall into exceptions spelled out in the governor’s orders. I.e., “essential workers,” those stuck in a campground when the EO was issued or enroute to a permanent residence.
But if your objective is to simply get away from the madness and spend the night somewhere other than home, for the time being in Michigan you’re out of luck.
Gateway’s Wilcox said the governor needs to “ease up.’
“People want to get out and see some walls other than the ones in their houses.”