By State Representative Mike Lahti*
Autumn is on the horizon and with winter creeping closer than many of us are ready to admit, we must make the most of our last snow-free days. I can't think of a better way to do that than by getting out and exploring the wilderness of our state parks.
In this tough economy, many families have scaled back on travel plans and are looking within their local communities for rest and relaxation. Fortunately for us, we don't have to go very far as state parks offer a great, low-cost getaway.
The U.P. is blessed with beautiful state parks that draw in thousands of visitors from all over the state and nation. I want to make sure that these attractions are around for generations to come; that's why I recently fought to protect funding for Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (DNRE) 2010-2011 budget – a move that will reopen more than a dozen state campgrounds and protect our state's vital natural resources.
As the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on DNRE, I know that making these budget changes is important to protecting our land, air and water and the jobs of our workers who depend on them. We must preserve the attractions that draw tourists to our state. That's why I fought so hard to re-open the state campgrounds that were closed during last year's budget cuts.
The budget that passed the House will reopen 12 state campgrounds, require the DNRE director to meet semi-annually with timber representatives to discuss strategic issues of the timber industry, establish and expand Citizen Advisory Councils, prohibit the DNRE from charging children under 18 admission fees to enter the State Historical Museum, and fund the Cormorant Population Control and Aquatic Nuisance Control programs.
My vote this year on the DNRE budget is in addition to House Bill 4677, which is now law. This plan will help us raise $38.1 million to protect Michigan's state parks and support local recreational programs through the voluntary purchase of a "recreational passport."
Our state's beautiful natural resources have suffered under our budget crisis. Our state parks are important tourism destinations and an essential element of our residents' quality of life. It is vital that Michigan invest in these resources to ensure that they are properly maintained and cared for.
Under the plan, instead of the current system of charging residents as they enter parks, all residents will have the option to buy an annual passport when they register their vehicles with the Secretary of State. Non-resident and commercial vehicles must still obtain motor vehicle and boating access site permits.
If you haven't been camping or exploring in the U.P. yet, there's still plenty of time. I will continue to fight for our natural resources to ensure that great opportunities like these are around for years to come.
So grab your sleeping bag, long johns and your friends and family and check out a state park to embark on what could become a lifelong passion or simply provide some quality time with your loved ones away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
* State Representative Mike Lahti (D-Hancock) is the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE). He represents the 110th House District, which covers Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Ontonagon counties and part of Marquette County. To contact him, call (517) 373-0850 or toll-free (888) 663-4031 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.