The Outside Recreation Report: Massive Grants, Deer Searching Stats, And Different 2022 Takeaways

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Hundreds of thousands of Grant dollars are coming to Northern Michigan to help drive park improvements. Stabilized traffic at local outdoor leisure attractions after two years with record-breaking numbers. About trends of decline in the world of deer hunting. These are some of the key learnings for 2022 for outdoor recreation in northern Michigan. The ticker contacted Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) District 4, which serves Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Wexford counties, for a 2022 report Map for parks, wildlife and more in the north.

First some good news: The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board this week announced funding recommendations for 45 recreational development projects and land acquisitions across the state, including some in northern Michigan. Established in 1976, the Natural Resources Trust Fund “recommends annually that federal and local government agencies fund development projects and land acquisitions that promote access to public outdoor recreation.” Two Grand Traverse County projects are on the recommendation list this year – one as an acquisition grant, the other as a development grant.

On the acquisition side, the Board of Directors of the Natural Resources Trust Fund recommended that Legislature approve a $650,000 grant to the Michigan DNR’s Forest Resources Division for a project called Jaxon Creek Headwaters. Jaxon Creek is a federally designated river in Grand Traverse County near the Kingsley/Mayfield area. The DNR website has few specific details about the project and the Forest Resources Division could not be reached for comment on short notice, but the size of the grant and the fact that it is an acquisition project suggest that the DNR intends to acquire more land around Jaxon Creek for parks and recreation purposes. Notably, the DNR ranked this project high on its list of 2023 acquisition grant applicants.

On the development side, Traverse City is expected to receive $200,500 for new public toilets on two local beaches. Ticker reported on this project in March, which will replace the West End Beach bathhouse with a new ADA-compliant facility and build brand new public restrooms near the volleyball courts. The project is expected to cost a total of $401,000, with the City of Traverse City covering half and the Natural Resources Trust Fund grant covering the other half.

The Natural Resources Trust Fund’s money comes to northern Michigan after perhaps the busiest period ever for local outdoor recreation. Across the board, parks, beaches, trails, nature preserves and other outdoor attractions saw a huge surge in traffic in 2020 and 2021 as the pandemic caused event cancellations and minimized indoor activity. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, for example, set an attendance record in 2020 and broke that record in 2021 — meaning pandemic traffic even surpassed the year Good Morning America named Sleeping Bear “The Most Beautiful Place in America.”

Local park officials say the pandemic’s surge has largely subsided in 2022, with traffic remaining heavy but not breaking records. At Sleeping Bear Dunes, Park Superintendent Scott Tucker calls the year a “fresh start” after last year’s record 1.72 million visitors. He estimates that National Lakeshore will end 2022 with “just over 1.5 million visitors,” more in line with typical traffic numbers from the second half of the 2010s than recent years. Similarly, Stephanie Rosinski — parks superintendent at Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park — told The Ticker in September that the park was “very busy” last summer, but that “the numbers were down just a little bit” from a record year in Year 2021. Those declines, Rosinski said, have rippled across the state.

For his part, Tucker isn’t worried about the drop in outdoor recreation: “If you’re talking about the difference between 1.5 million and the record 1.72 million, that’s a noticeable drop,” he noted to the Leelanau Ticker last month . “But I don’t think anyone at the park felt like there was a dramatic drop this year. It was probably easier to find parking on our beaches, but our hiking trails were full, our campgrounds were full, the weather was spectacular, and everyone was having a great summer.”

A more worrying decline for natural resource workers is the continued decline in interest in deer hunting. According to Steve Griffith, a Michigan-based DNR wildlife biologist who works at the DNR’s Traverse City Customer Service Center, deer harvest numbers for the 2022 hunting season are likely to be significantly down from last year. As of Dec. 1, the total number of deer harvests registered on the DNR website was “close to 253,000,” according to Griffith. “The estimated harvest for last year is 395,000 deer,” he notes. “I don’t know how many deer are caught on average in December, but I suspect it will be less than 142,000, which would be needed to roughly match last year’s total.”

As of press time, Michigan’s deer harvest for the 2022 season totaled 278,752 — still more than 100,000 fewer than the previous year. The 395,000 deer harvest in 2021 was already below the previous year’s figure of 410,639.

The declining deer harvest is associated with a corresponding decrease in the number of deer hunters, which in turn appears to be the result of changing demographics. DNR data shows that 463,178 deer hunters participated in Michigan’s regular firearms season in 2021, compared to nearly 800,000 in 1998. According to last year’s DNR hunting season report, hunters are predominantly male and the largest concentration of them is between the ages of 50 and 70 In 2011, males ages 40 to 60 were the largest group of hunters, suggesting that Michigan’s hunting economy still depends on most of the same people as it did a decade ago — and that younger people are. not particularly numerous when starting the sport.

While hunter numbers in Michigan are declining, deer populations are increasing. According to the DNR, approximately two million deer made their home in Michigan in 2022, compared to 1.7 million in the early 2010s. These rising numbers mean at least one big thing for Michiganders: more dangerous roads. The state has tracked 50,000 or more vehicular deer accidents in each of the last five years. In 2021, there were 52,218 collisions between vehicles and deer in the state, resulting in over 1,400 injuries and 10 deaths. 642 of those collisions occurred in Grand Traverse County.

Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources