Traverse City News and Events

Businesses Brace for 'Devastating' Interlochen State Park Closures

By Art Bukowski | Feb. 15, 2024

Business and residents throughout Green Lake Township are already bracing for the “massive impact” of closures at Interlochen State Park during the busy summer season.

State officials recently announced plans to overhaul and upgrade the water and sewer system, among other items, at Michigan’s oldest (and largest by campsite) state park. The work means large swaths of the park, including certain campgrounds and boat launches, will close as early as April and remain closed through the summer.

“In our area, we suffer all through winter just trying to get to summer so we can make it,” Brian McAllister, owner of the popular Hofbrau restaurant, tells The Ticker. “If we have half a million plus visitors that are no longer in Interlochen for a summer, it’s going to be pretty devastating.”

Down the road at Bud’s, supervisor Shelly Stotler had much of the same to say.

“It’s going to have a really, really big impact on us. People walk from the park down here to eat, they come in out of the rain…sometimes they don’t want to cook. We get a lot of business from those campgrounds,” she tells The Ticker. “I wish they’d split it up and do (the work) in the spring and in the fall. To do it during the busiest months, I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid. This is going to hurt us very badly.”

Green Lake Township Supervisor Marvin Radtke says the planned improvements to the park are “definitely needed and a long time coming,” though he remains deeply concerned about the impact on local businesses. Portions of the park were already closed last year, he says, and U.S. 31 is scheduled to be torn up in 2025. That’s a lot for businesses that were already worn thin by COVID, he says.

“We had half a whammy last year, a full whammy this year, and we’re going to get another full whammy next year,” he tells The Ticker. “It will be very, very challenging.”

Radtke says he, State Rep. John Roth and McAllister (who also is a Grand Traverse County commissioner) met with park superintendent Chris Bush in January to get more information and press the DNR to make the disruptions as minimal as possible.

“We were brought to the table for discussion, and I don't want to come in like a bulldozer, but we have to express our concerns for our residents that utilize (the park) and that are dependent on that place for their livelihood,” Radke says.

Kasey Cline, Cadillac district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says the nature of the work (much of it underground) means the bulk of it must be completed during warmer months. But state officials will make every effort to minimize disruptions, she says.

“We work very hard with our consultants to plan for the least number of interruptions to the public. And so whenever possible, we keep facilities open as long as possible and open them back up as early as possible,” she tells The Ticker.

The project is supported by $3.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, part of a state plan to use $250 million of such funding to help tackle a backlog of critical infrastructure needs within the state park system.

“This ARPA gift is allowing us to achieve a number of critical infrastructure improvements that we would have done in the future, but it brought that future a lot closer on a more accelerated schedule,” Cline says. “We’re very excited for this.”

ARPA funding must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by end of 2026, meaning the gift isn’t open-ended. Cline is hopeful that biting the bullet now means less cumulative impact for businesses and residents.

“These closures are happening now because we actually have money to do the full scope of project as opposed to piecemealing it together, and frankly I think that our closures are actually going to have (less impact) because of that,” she says. “Instead of having to phase the project over three years and having closures over three seasons, this means…fewer interruptions in the future.”

While the general scope and timeline of the project is set, Cline says to keep an eye on the park’s website and Facebook page for specifics starting next month. Officials hope to communicate closures and openings in real time.

“We are going to try to keep the boat launches open as much as possible," she says. "There are times that when we pave a boat launch we’ll open it on the weekends if the contractor can work that into their schedule and they can keep their equipment safe and our visitors safe.”

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