Since October 2010, Michigan drivers have had to specifically request a recreation passport sticker on their license plates while registering their vehicles, which gave them free entry and parking at the 103 parks and state recreation areas that dot the state.
That process could change soon. The Michigan House of Representatives is considering legislation that would make the recreation passport sticker automatic when obtaining or renewing license plates.
The sticker costs $11 for cars and $6 for motorcycles and is valid for one year. State Rep. Gary Howell, sponsor of one of the bills and chair of the House Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee, said the bill is necessary for upkeep at state parks.
“We’ve had a deficiency in funding for infrastructure in our state parks for some years,” said Howell, a Republican representing Lapeer County. “We have probably the finest state park system in the country, but you’ve got to be able to fix the bathrooms. You’ve got to be able to fix the roads. You’ve got to keep the things up. And we haven’t had the funds, frankly, to keep ahead of some of those needs.”
Howell’s House Bill 4486, combined with House Bill 4776, introduced by state Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, could raise the revenue generated by the recreation passport for state parks from about $13 million to over $24 million a year.
“About a third of drivers sign up (for the passport) under the current system. The Department of Natural Resources estimates it would be at least 50% participation under the new system,” Howell explained.
Without the sticker, the cost to purchase an annual permit at the state parks is $16 for vehicles and $11 for motorcycles.
While he is usually opposed to increasing fees, Howell said the bipartisan bills will actually save drivers money and could increase the use of the parks. He spent the Fourth of July weekend in the Upper Peninsula and entered three state parks on his way up and on his arrival.
“We did all of that for 11 bucks that I had to spend one time a year, and it covered everybody in the truck with me,” he explained, noting parking fees for entering the three parks would have run him $48.
He pointed out the bills are not trying to sneak an extra $11 into vehicle registration. Howell said the opportunity to opt-out of paying for the recreation passport would be prominently displayed in secretary of state branch offices.
The majority of funds raised through the recreation passports goes toward state park improvement, operations and maintenance, although some of the money also goes to local public recreation facilities, forest recreation and other expenses related to the upkeep of natural resources, according to an article in MLive.