Fisherman’s Island State Park & St Marys proposed landswap: A question & answer session with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

fisherman's island web

The St Marys Cement Land Swap Proposal Community Advisory Committee recently submitted a lengthy list of questions concerning the company’s desire to trade a piece of its property for a piece of Fisherman’s Island State Park property to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).
Following is a list of questions—which were originally posed on July 16 during the advisory committee’s first of four meetings—and responses from the MDNR dated Tuesday July 29.
St Marys Cement has yet to file an application with the state pertaining to the land swap, citing that it wished to gather community input before making such a decision.
Administrative Process
What is MDNR’s process relating to potential and/or requested land swaps?
Applicants fill out and submit Land Transaction Application. (LTA) Applications are reviewed by the Departments Land Managing Divisions, local township and counties are also invited to comment.
• Could the State lease the land in question to St Marys Cement rather than swapping it? Yes.
• How many park land swaps have been applied for and approved in Michigan in the last three years?
Parks and Recreation Division is constantly receiving a variety of land transaction requests from easement applications to use permits, but do not recall any formal land exchanges in the Parks and Recreation Division. The Department has approved exchanges in the past when it is in the best interest of the public and state.
According to the MDNR, an exchange of 160 acres of private land for 160 acres of state land was proposed in February of this year in Luce County’s McMillan Township. The proposed swap in question would give Oswald’s Bear more adjacent property to operate its captive black bear facility while giving the state a piece of property that would ensure better access to state-owned land. The exchange was recommended for approval on May 22.
• Is it possible to mark the relevant boundaries in order for residents to better understand the potential impact of a swap?  Once an LTA is submitted the proposal can be identified. A graphic containing the current park boundary and a draft proposed unapproved boundary has been provided by St Marys.

Fisherman’s Island
State Park planning
• What type of formal or informal plan exists for Fisherman’s Island State Park (FISP)?
A 1974 Park Study was prepared for FISP, funding is currently not available for an updated Park Master Plan.
• What is MDNR’s future development plan for FISP?
A Management Plan is the top priority for the Gaylord District, likely to take place in 2016, subject to funding.
• How does the annual budget of FISP compare to that of other State Parks?
The annual budget for FISP is $61,157, and does not support the budget that allows for one ranger and three to four short-term workers, the budget for Young SP located 16 miles east is $416,196 and helps to cover the costs of FISP. The budget for FISP is on the Division’s low end of funding.

FISHERMAN’S ISLAND
STATE PARK USAGE
• What is the size comparison of FISP relative to other State Parks?
FISP is 2,678 acres. The largest State Park in our system is 59,000 acres and the smallest is 36 acres, the average for the Northern Lower Peninsula is 1,923 acres.
• How does the usage pattern of Fisherman’s Island State Park (FISP) compare to the patterns for other State Parks?
2013 Day Use Figures
Petoskey SP — 285,562
Young SP — 51,584
FISP — 20,705
2013 Camping Figures
Young SP — 16,479
FISP —  4,521
• What is the difference in usage patterns between more-developed and less-developed parks?
The usage numbers tell that story fairly well. The more developed parks tend to draw more visitors because of the amenities available. However, there stills seems to be a substantial amount of users who still enjoy the rustic camping experience.
• What are the patterns of traffic flow and approximate vehicle counts into FISP?
Vehicle counts in State Parks are where our day use figures come from. Fisherman’s Island, like most parks, does not have a vehicle counter under the road to keep track of vehicles. Vehicle counts are done by counting the cars in the day use area at a certain time of the day, and then multiplied using a calculation that was developed years ago. The calculation varies by region, but for FISP it is the number of cars x 3 x 3.6. This will give you an average number for visitors that day.
• How much interface is there between park users (cars and bikes) and industrial traffic?
FISP staff states that there is very little bike traffic in the park; we have had no complaints from visitors regarding truck traffic outside the park on Bells Bay Road.
• What do we know about the geographic home of FISP users?
According to the staff there, the majority of campers that use FISP are from Southern Michigan. Other places include: Ontario, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois. Most Day Users are local. FISP is not really a destination beach because the shoreline is mostly rock. It does have a big draw to Petoskey stone hunters and hikers.
• What are the patterns of camp site reservations throughout the park over the season?
Unfortunately our new reservation system does not have a report to tell us reservations vs. walk-ins. Staff have said that 80 percent are reservations and 20 percent are walk-ins. Our busiest times of the year, for most parks in Northern Michigan are from Memorial Day Weekend until the end of the fall color tour. FISP is unique in that we allow hunting in the park, and it does get substantial use during the fall for that purpose, so the campground remains open longer to accommodate that usage.
• How are existing trails within the park maintained?
Hiking trails are maintained by staff when issues are brought to the parks attention and with periodic inspections. A Youth Work Program manages the trails once a week, in the summer.

ZONING AND REGULATION
• Who regulates the zoning for all areas of FISP and the adjacent properties? The local township regulates zoning outside state park lands. Local zoning has no control on state land.
• Can a bike trail be allowed to pass through the park?
This would depend on future management plans.
• Can more than one official entrance to the park be allowed?
This would depend on future management plans.
• What are the legal easements that apply to the roads in FISP?
We are only aware of utility easements. Roads such as Clipperview are public roadways managed by the county.
• Can park improvements be made at the Medusa turnaround?
This is outside of the park boundary and not managed by this Division.
• What is the condition of the existing roads on the properties in question?
We do not have a transaction application; the entrance to the park is from Bell’s Bay Road, which is a county public road and not state park property.
NATURAL RESOURCES
PRESERVATION
• What areas within the FISP and adjacent areas are most important from a preservation standpoint?
The shoreline areas of FISP are most important in terms of rare species and communities. Exemplary examples of open dunes and wetland occur along the shoreline. The limestone shoreline itself is considered an exemplary natural community.
The federal endangered Piping Plover has nested at FISP in the past. The utility of FISP beaches for Piping Plover nesting varies with lake levels and coastal dynamic. Wide sandy beaches with scattered small stone cobble are preferred. Good nesting beach comes and goes, but we expect Plover to nest at FISP again. Federal threatened Houghton’s Goldenrod and Pitcher’s Thistle occur along the shoreline of the park. State threatened Lake Huron Tansy occurs on the shoreline. The state threatened Lake Huron Locust (insect) occurs at FISP (shoreline). The state threatened Pumpelly’s Brome Grass is found in the park (shoreline).
The Spike-Lip Crater, a special concerned land snail occurs in forested areas of the park.  It is associated with limestone.  American Bald Eagle (state special concern, Fed. Golden and Bald Eagle Protection Act) have nested in the north-northwest part of the park. The nest was active in 2012.
There are a large number of known archaeological sites in the park (17). Many are very significant. Three are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The State Archaeologist has stated that there is high potential for additional historic and prehistoric archaeological sites to be discovered.  It is expected that new significant sites will be discovered.
• Does MDNR have an initiative to create “blue water trails?” (i.e. Kayaking trails with campsites.)
A new water trails program will be housed in this PRD; we expect that the position will focus on a local partnership with communities. A program manager has not been hired, and I am not aware of funds at this date.
• How do wetlands play into decisions made by MDNR?
All land conditions are taken into consideration on any LTA. In general, the DNR tries to avoid creating regulatory situations for MDEQ. We consider wetlands to be important natural resources and habitat and must follow state and federal permit process.
• How many creeks are there in FISP and on the adjacent St Marys Cement properties?
Whiskey Creek – dry most summers
Inwood Creek – little flow during the summer
McGeach Creek – Shallow during the summer, spring floods
Other unnamed creeks to the south provide seasonal flow; staff has not seen any fishing activities inside of the park boundary.
• Could St Marys Cement remove or impact McGee Creek?
MDEQ handles any type of water or wetland issue.

POTENTIAL FUNDING
PARTNERSHIP
• Could St Marys Cement partner with the State/MDNR to make improvements to the park?
Yes, we would look to the Park Management Plan for suggested improvement and secure state and federal funds along with matching funds.
• If St Marys Cement were to agree to pay for certain improvements at FISP, who would make those improvements?
The state or contractor could make any improvement if it is consistent with the Management Plan and has park support.
• Could potential improvement funds provided by St Marys Cement be earmarked so that neither legislators nor MDNR could redirect such funds?
Yes, a dedicated gift can be directed to specific park elements.