ONTONAGON, Mich. (WLUC) – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will once again operate the popular downhill winter sports complex at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon County.
The DNR had partnered with Gogebic Community College for 10 years.
In addition, after more than three decades, the DNR has also contracted a new concessionaire to run several business ventures familiar to park visitors, as well as provide new park amenities that the DNR hopes will improve park operations. the ski resort and the park over a year. round base.
Park shuttles, sea kayak rentals and more are coming soon.
In the Porcupine Mountains, home to Michigan’s largest state park, a ski hill has been in operation since the 1940s, along with a lodge concession, ski rentals and, more recently, a Frisbee golf course during summer.
The park also offers fall-colored ski lifts and maintains a store at the site of a historic park headquarters and a store at the park’s visitor center.
Additionally, in 2006, the DNR commissioned the local volunteer group Friends of the Porkies to develop three proven programs at the park. They include the park’s folk school, annual music festival, and artist-in-residence program.
In 2012, Gogebic Community College took over the ski resort use agreement, including winter food and ski shop facilities.
This arrangement would remain in place until September 2020, when college president George McNulty contacted MNR to announce the establishment’s intention to end management of the ski resort.
“At the outset of this partnership, Gogebic’s vision was to assist the State of Michigan in rebuilding Porkies operations and facilitating economic development and/or stability in the region,” McNulty wrote in a letter to DNR. . “Over the past eight years, the college now believes we have achieved that vision.”
The DNR asked the college if it would continue operations in the 2021-22 season. The department had also granted contract extensions to a dealer who had operated in the park for more than three decades to help ensure a smooth transition.
“The college is committed to the prosperity and growth that has been achieved during our tenure and, if necessary, is more than willing to collaborate and be a resource to the new supplier to ensure the success of the Porkies,” said writes McNulty.
Doug Rich, district supervisor for MNR’s West UP Parks and Recreation Division, said the relationship with the college has been beneficial, acknowledging the college’s contributions to stabilizing operations on the station. ski.
“GCC set us up for future success,” Rich said.
In the fall of 2020, the DNR requested bids for the combined summer-winter management of the park, including all ski resort operations, the chalet, cafeteria, park stores and vending machines.
Two bidders submitted proposals, including the previous concessionaire, but neither qualified.
MNR took several months to consider its options, deciding in the fall of 2021 on a cooperative approach, which would see staff from MNR’s Parks and Recreation Division operate year-round outdoor ski area functions, while a concession entrepreneur would operate the indoor clubhouse, cafeteria, park stores, retail and rental, vending machines, disc golf course and events.
The contractor, Friends of the Porkies and park staff would collaborate on major events at the ski resort.
“We are ready to take on this important role again in partnership with our dealer contractor,” said Rich. “In doing so, we plan to fulfill the mission of DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division to acquire, protect, and preserve the natural and cultural features of Michigan’s unique resources, and provide access to recreational opportunities and terrestrial and aquatic public education programs as implemented. through the division’s strategic plan.
“The establishment of a sustainable management system will help ensure the stability of this important part of the park’s resource base.”
The DNR has initiated a second bidding process in accordance with Michigan law and the DNR Commercial Use Policy.
In 2021, Simple Adventures – an Auburn Hills company with 11 managers and more than 75 employees – won contracts with the DNR to operate a concession in Interlochen State Park in Grand Traverse County and the area of Fort Custer Recreation in Kalamazoo County.
The company invested a total of $11,000 in these two facilities, resulting in revenue increases of 45% and 20%, respectively.
The bidding process at Porcupine Mountains State Park included an advertisement for bids and a sealed bid opening prior to the evaluation of bids by a panel that scores each bid independently. An optional pre-bid meeting was held prior to the 2020 bid application.
“This process requires applicants to provide their best proposal, including anything they are willing to deliver and can demonstrate they can deliver,” Rich said. “…A long-standing goal has been to provide a greater variety of recreational activities to make the ski resort a year-round destination and encourage visitors to stay in the area longer.”
According to the tender specifications, MNR wanted the contractor to develop warm weather activities previously unavailable.
Some expansion ideas considered by the DNR included: installing a second chairlift, developing a park shuttle service between Memorial Day and mid-October, building fat tire and bike trails of mountains around the ski resort, the creation of alternative accommodation for guests or staff and the acquisition of a liquor license at the ski resort cafeteria.
At a minimum, potential entrepreneurs also had to ensure the sale of firewood and the rental of sea kayaks and bicycles.
Simple Adventures offered additional amenities including year-round food at the cabin, shuttle service to Lake of the Clouds Scenic Overlook and the almost Isle unit of the park, online food ordering, and boat rentals. ‘equipment.
Specialized services beyond concession management were also offered, such as mountain biking and sea kayaking services to park visitors. Simple Adventures and the DNR are currently hiring workers at the park.
The new services are expected to be welcome additions to the visitor experience at the 59,020-acre state park.
From the heights of a pronounced escarpment overlooking the Big Carp River and at Summit Peak, to the shimmering beauty of Lake Superior at Union Bay, the Almost Isle River Falls at the west end of the park and in the heart of the territory, dotted with dozens of hiking trails, the Porcupine Mountains are visited by more than half a million people every year.
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