Campers fill Holland State Park campgrounds for the park’s reopening Monday (June 22). Camping, overnight lodging facilities and day-use shelters were suspended March 23 due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. (Neil Blake | MLive.com)

The wait is finally over: Michigan’s state park campgrounds are back open for business, according to MLive.com.

Campgrounds, cabins and overnight lodging welcomed back eager campers Monday (June 22), after a months-long suspension of full services since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

After gates opened at 8 a.m., trailers lined Holland State Park campgrounds by Monday afternoon as campers gathered to enjoy the state’s beautiful summer scenery. Children played outside at the campgrounds, while their parents sat nearby with a good book – the sights and sounds gave a long-awaited semblance of normalcy amid the ongoing pandemic.

For some, camping at Michigan’s parks is a beloved summer tradition. Brad Houzenga, who drove up from Illinois to Holland’s campgrounds, has been camping in Michigan with his family for 10 years now.

“We just love the kids to get some freedom and roam around at the campground and we just get some outside time and hang out,” he told MLive as he set up his pop-up trailer.

State parks staff were just as eager as visitors for the reopening of Michigan’s campgrounds, said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Plainwell District Supervisor Gary Jones.

“With it being summertime, and Michiganders looking to be outdoors, we’re happy that we can be fully operational and be able to provide all those amenities that the public is used to seeing this time of year,” said Jones, who oversees the southwest Michigan parks.

But reopening the campgrounds during a pandemic presented its own unique challenges for the state’s parks and recreation department.

Michigan’s state parks are facing a significant staffing deficit right now as a result of a statewide hiring freeze last month. Seasonal park staff could not be hired and trained until after May 15, when the state waived the hiring freeze for summer park workers.

“We’re still not completely all staffed up yet, but today’s the day so we’re doing our best to get started,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “In general, we’re ready to roll today and we’re going to do our best to accommodate the visitors.”

Michigan campgrounds are currently operating at about two-thirds regular staffing levels, Olson told MLive Monday.

Staffing varies at each park, but the statewide parks and recreation division currently has about 1,000 staff members, compared to its regular 1,500 summer workers, Olson said.

On top of limited staff, workers are also required to furlough one day a week for 10 weeks, he said.

Despite fewer workers and a delay in preparation, the parks department has still managed to bring the campgrounds up to speed, including restarting water and electricity services, reopening buildings closed during the winter and preparing the campgrounds to embrace visitors during a pandemic.

“Our staff has been working very hard with the limited staff we’ve had to get things ready,” Jones said. “They’re anxious. It’s been a long-delayed spring and it’s now summertime. It will be a little bit of a challenge for them in instituting the new protocols to safely operate, but I think they’re ready to start getting visitors back.”

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