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Michigan State Parks Celebrate 100th Anniversary

Oct 09, 2019

This year, Michigan celebrates the 100th anniversary of its state park system.  Michigan’s state parks incorporate a wide array of outdoor recreation opportunities – camping, fishing, boating, swimming, trails, historical fun – the outdoor experiences are endless and create some of the best life moments and memories.

It’s a vast system made up of 103 state parks that collectively attract over 28 million visitors annually. The beauty of a large system is that most Michiganders can access a state park within just a short drive of their homes.  However, it wasn’t always that easy to enjoy the outdoors.

In the early part of the 20th century, state residents who had automobiles and began to spread their wings to explore the beauty of the state were demanding public outdoor space, and our state leaders responded by creating the Michigan State Parks Commission in 1919.  The commission was charged with acquiring and maintaining lands for state parks.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website, and explained by P. J. Hoffmaster, Michigan’s first superintendent of state parks, “The appearance of ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Property, Keep Out’ signs has been a growing one, all tending toward an approaching era of exclusion of the great mass of our residents and visitors from wonderful recreational advantages offered by the state. Through this, if nothing else, has come the setting aside of tracts of land and water by the people for the use and enjoyment of all.”

It all began in a piecemeal approach well before 1919 though.  In the 1890’s the federal government transferred parts of Mackinac Island and Fort Michilimackinac to the state and soon after the legislature converted them into a state park property.  This acquisition made Michigan one of the first states to establish a state park.  Along the way, other assets were acquired, including the Interlochen State Park (originally known as Pine Park) which was established in 1917, when the Michigan Legislature paid $60,000 (equal to $1,202,676.56 today) for the land. In purchasing the land, the state sought to preserve “at least one remnant” of the virgin pine forest that once flourished throughout the peninsulas.

Once the Michigan State Park Commission was established, many of the properties were transferred to the commission’s control in 1920.  Interlochen State Park was the first transferred.  As it goes, Michigan was one of 17 states to establish state parks by 1921.  The park system grew quickly, and the resident’s usage soared.  However, the DNR explains, “after World War II, State Parks were in shambles, having been neglected during wartimes, but thanks to Michigan’s Genevieve Gillette (the first woman to graduate from Michigan Agricultural College’s Landscape Architecture program and the founder and president of the Michigan Parks Association), the parks were returned to their former glory through securing more funding and a statewide development plan. Between 1950 and 1960, state parks attendance had gone up by 200%. In response, the state implemented the very first motor vehicle entrance fee at State Parks. Attendance initially dropped, but not for long, and by 1963, Michigan lead the nation with the highest number of overnight campers at their parks.”

Some of the best days of my youth were traveling to either Holland State Park or Grand Haven State Park for a day of swimming and playing in the sand.  The beauty of the parks is that while the rest of the world around us changes, the fond memories of yesterday are relived today with my kids.  Michigan Parks… get out there and enjoy!  For a full list of state parks, please visit http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/#list.

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