By Dan Hardenbrook
One of the few activities that is actually being encouraged during Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order is getting outside. Walking, hiking, running, and biking, as well as walking your pets were among items listed as allowed in the State of Michigan’s announcement, which went into effect the night of March 23.
For many tourists, this is time for spring break, and much anticipated vacations at the end of a long winter. Locals love this time of year to get out and do their favorite outdoor activities after months of being stuck inside. So with quarantines becoming a craze, and lockdowns leaving many looking for things to do, tourists and locals alike are heading into the great outdoors.
The Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a nationally known treasure and a favorite hot spot for many fans of the few activities that are still allowed. Park Supervisor Kevin Dennis says, “We are still seeing a few visitors, although the number has been declining as state mandated restrictions have increased.”
Despite the fact that many believe outdoor activities may be an escape of sorts, the park is still taking proper precautions. “We are asking visitors to observe ‘Carry in/Carry out’ practices and to bring their own hand sanitizer as there are no handwashing facilities open,” Dennis said.
Even though there may be plenty of space, Dennis says people still need to stay apart and practice social distancing.
Park visitors need to be aware of the many changes made at this time:
-Park headquarters is closed.
-The modern lodge and camper cabin are closed until May 15th.
-Semi-modern camping (electricity, no water) will be closed until at least April 13th.
-Modern camping is tentatively scheduled to open on May 15th.
-The modern restroom building at the Upper Falls is closed. Porta-Johns have been brought in. -There are no trash receptacles as people are asked to “Carry in, Carry out.”
-The Upper Falls brink stairs and deck are closed.
-The Lower Falls boardwalk and viewing areas are closed.
-The “River” trail between the falls is closed.
Dennis said the Upper and Lower Falls day use areas are open, and that the Recreation Passport requirement has been lifted during this event.
Though the falls are a favorite spot for many looking to get out of lockdown, everyone should be extremely cautious. “We are encouraging locals to visit, but we are discouraging people from out of the area from visiting,” Dennis explained
So how has the Covid-19 crisis impacted park visits? Dennis said, “I’m guessing here…we are probably 75% down in visitation from a normal spring. Which is perfectly OK! We would normally have a few campers each night and start to see increased day users with the spring water flows increasing. Park ranger staff would normally be preparing water systems and buildings for opening and performing routine equipment maintenance.”
Much like many other businesses, the Tahquamenon Falls State Park has had to change the way the staff operates. And for Dennis and his team, that starts at the top. Administrative staff are now tele-working full time. The Park Ranger staff are conducting daily safety inspections and security checks throughout the day. All park staff have spent considerable time addressing the ever-changing restrictions/closures affecting State Parks.
Dennis encourages anyone who wants more information or would like to stay up to date on the latest restrictions, closing, and key dates to check out the Department of Natural Resources website. The DNR has a “Covid-19 Closure” link on the homepage of their website for people to get the latest information as it relates to all state parks in Michigan, including Tahquamenon and the Muskallonge Lake State Park. The DNR website is www.michigan.gov/dnr.