Michigan State Parks coping with shortage of seasonal workers

No parks or recreation areas will close, but visitors are asked to help by picking up after themselves
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 7:42 PM EDT
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MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) - Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner, unofficially signaling the start of Michigan’s tourism season and ramping up activity in state parks.

A shortage of short-term and seasonal workers at over 100 sites in the Michigan State Parks system, including Seven Lakes State Park in Holly, could affect the experience for some visitors.

However, all state parks and recreation areas will remain open with the same hours regardless of the labor shortage.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is anticipating a a busy season. Camping reservations alone are up 40% compared to last year, likely due to COVID-19 restrictions being lifted and Michigan transitioning out of the coronavirus pandemic.

The DNR Parks and Recreation division chief said they’ve only hired about 800 people -- or 60% of its summer workforce. Usually by this time, they’ve hired most of their temporary employees, which is around 1,300 people.

The seasonal workers mow grass, maintain trails, answer questions, perform janitorial duties and maintain parks or campgrounds.

The DNR says they may have to contract out some of the more essential services like cleaning if these jobs can’t get filled. If that’s the case, they’re asking folks to do their part when they visit state parks and recreation areas.

”If they have an outing, picnic or barbecue or camping or whatever to make sure they do their part to pick up after themselves,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Division Chief Ron Olson. “We call it leave no trace, meaning leave the area better than you found it.”

The DNR knows the worker shortage isn’t unique to state parks. Many businesses are struggling to fill open positions, especially in the restaurant and retail industries.

DNR seasonal positions start at around $10 to $11 an hour with on fringe benefits and staff can work up to just under 1,100 hours. The DNR knows low wages are an issue because people can go elsewhere and make at least $4 an hour and in some cases get benefits too.

”It used to be a lot of college kids that want to work all the time and we’ve augmented that with retired people,” Olson said. “But our goal is to run a clean and safe park and we will do what we need to do.”

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