BRIDGMAN — There’s a lot to like at Warren Dunes State Park, and a lot of people like the park.
It logs 1 million visitors each year. But some of the patrons trying to get away from it all are finding big city-style traffic congestion at the park in Lake Township.
Traffic problems are showing up in customer satisfaction surveys, park officials say, and the matter got more attention at an open house late last month at Lake Township Hall.
“One thing that jumps out is the traffic issue. Getting people quickly into the park is a high priority for a lot of people. We have some ideas that are on the board for improving that,” Park Management Plan Administrator Debbie Jensen said at the forum.
The action goals include implementing an online system for selling non-resident passes to improve traffic flow on busy summer days; and exploring improvements to park entrance and operations to improve the traffic flow.
“I’ve also heard some new ideas ... like lighting up the state park sign so when people are coming at night they get advance warning when they have to turn,” she said.
Most Michigan residents have park passes on their car license plates, they are a minority of those visiting Warren Dunes on busy days when the line of cars can stretch onto Red Arrow Highway.
“This is one of the parks that we consider a gateway park. ... We get a lot of out-of-state visitors because it’s the first park you come to when you come into Michigan,” Matt Lincoln, another parks administrator, said at the forum.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources hosted the Nov. 28 open house to gather comments on the park’s draft Phase II general management plan. It defines a 10- to 20-year planning and management strategy to preserve the site’s natural and cultural resources, and to provide access to land- and water-based recreation and education.
Lincoln said Phase 1 for Warren Dunes “which essentially establishes 20-year management zones for the park” was completed in 2010.
“The Management Plan kind of acts as a guide and a manual for the park,” he said.
He said the goal is to have a Phase II plan ready next year.
“Last year we did an onsite survey of park users ... on what people thought of the park,” Lincoln said. “We also had a stakeholder meeting in August and we asked them the same things — ‘What do you guys like about the park, what do you not like about the park?’”
Stakeholders are municipalities and organizations affiliated with the park.
Lincoln said the management team of DNR officials are involved in such areas as stewardship, park planning and trails. They are responsible for goals and reviewing comments.
Lincoln said some of the 10-year action goals involve ongoing park management, such as work to remove invasive species and restrict vehicles in the park’s designated natural area. Other goals involve improvements such as expansions of the natural area and the park portion open to hunting. Both were depicted on maps displayed at the open house.
Participants were given green (positive) and red (negative) dot stickers to place next to some of the action plan goals, written on poster boards set up next to color-coded maps showing various management zone areas. Some attendees used sticky notes to explain their reactions.
DNR District Supervisor Gary Jones said one proposal is to expand the natural area from the middle of the park to the northern boundary and toward the main camping area, which is to the south. A small area is slated to be removed from the rustic campground.
“It protects it from development ... so you would see no further trail development,” he said.
Park Manager Drew Montgomery said changes are set to take place even before Phase II begins.
“Right now we’re working on a redevelopment of all the roadways in the State Park in 2019, and also replacement of our oldest south and farthest north buildings to be built this year. Hopefully everything can be completed by July.”
Restrooms similar to the structure that went up in 2016 are slated to go up at the current sites of the vintage buildings.
Montgomery said vendor pads are planned next to each new building.
“We’ll have more restrooms between the three buildings than we’ve ever had.”
Montgomery said some roads will be resurfaced while others replaced.
The 1,952-acre park at 12032 Red Arrow Highway features 2.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, a large swimming beach, a critical dunes area, a dedicated natural area, modern and rustic camping, hiking, swimming, picnicking, cross-country skiing, wildlife viewing and hunting.
The park stretches from Browntown Road in Chikaming Township through Lake Township all the way to Bridgman, where it adjoins the city’s Weko Beach.