Michigan DNR pursuing concessionaires to run park businesses

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan’s state parks, harbors and recreation areas are seeking entrepreneurs to run camp stores, boat rentals and other businesses as the coronavirus pandemic has spurred an increase in state park visitors.

Lori Green, the concession and lease manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, told MLive.com that there are perks that come with operating a business within a state park or recreation area.

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“You don’t have to buy the property, you don’t have to build a building, you don’t have to pay property taxes -- and you have that customer base,” she added.

Green said state park visitor numbers were higher this year then ever, which could be encouraging for state-park based enterprises.

Details for the bidding process are on the DNR’s website.

Most opportunities are seasonal, such as operating camp stores, bike or watercraft rentals, food trucks, and even a water park. But others may require more investment from the vendor, like an unoccupied restaurant at Presque Isle State Harbor, where the building needs some renovations.

An anomaly on the current list is the ski hill at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Green said the DNR is hoping to find a year-round vendor — or perhaps several of them — interested in running the ski operations, which feature a chalet and 500-person cafeteria.

Green added that the DNR is also open to hearing recommendations for new businesses.

“We want to grow," she said. “We don’t want things to stay the same because customer needs change.”