In 1989, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the new Park Manager at Ludington State Park. Ludington has always been recognized as one of the most resource rich and resource diverse parks in the system. As a result, it experiences heavy day use and consistently ranks as the most popular camping destination in the system. Although visitor attendance is impressive, the park has also always enjoyed a lot of support from the local community. This was evident when the community encouraged the establishment of the park almost 100 years ago and it continues today.
On my very first day on the job, our Regional Park Supervisor visited the park to welcome me and discuss some goals and objectives as we moved forward. At the top of the list was the suggestion that we encourage the establishment of a “friends group” that would enlist some community leaders to harness that local support. The group could assist the park with its mission of protecting natural and cultural resources while at the same time providing quality outdoor recreational opportunities to hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
As I got my feet on the ground and after a few false starts “Friends of Ludington State Park” was officially established in 1992. The original board members were Dave Hall, Larry Kivela, Dave Peterson and Steve Begnoche. One of the board’s first tasks was to complete the necessary paperwork to establish the group as a non-profit 501c3 organization. This allowed donations to be tax deductible.
In addition to some early donations, the board decided to operate a small book store at our Great Lakes Visitor Center. The store would provide some much-needed funds to do a few projects that were special or beyond the scope of normal park operations. In addition, the sale items tried to emphasize natural and cultural resources and served as an interpretive vehicle.
Early projects were made possible with donations from the community and grants from local businesses. We started a recycling program in our campgrounds. A short time later, the group started a “bench replacement” program that emphasized recycling. Ludington State Park had many traditional green wooden benches that had seen a better day. The bench program allowed a park user to donate the cost of a maintenance free hard plastic bench made from recycled materials to the friends group. Then the friends would purchase the bench and the park staff would place the bench in the park. Usually the donation was “in memory of” someone who had enjoyed the park. We placed a plaque naming that person and noted that the bench was made from recycled milk jugs. The program started out a bit slow but as park visitors got the idea the program became very successful. We eventually had approximately 100 benches donated before we had to say enough.
The friends also accepted donations for plastic handicap accessible tables and eventually nursery stock to plant in our campgrounds. They led the effort to establish the Canoe Trail, which was the first of its kind in Michigan State Parks. They provided funds to purchase dune grass and helped recruit volunteers to plant the grass in the park to prevent erosion. They funded many interpretive programs and evening music and storytelling programs. They paid for taxidermy specimens at the Visitor Center.
They spearheaded the construction of the warming shelter with “buy-a-log” donations.
These are just a few of the projects that the friends helped initiate and fund.
The friends group, thirty years later, continues to help the park. The new accessible playground at the Hamlin Lake beach area is a wonderful example. The friends partnered with community and park users, local businesses, the Community Foundation for Mason County, the Great Lakes Energy Foundation and Parks and Recreation Division to raise the very substantial funds necessary to make that playground a reality.
I am sure that everyone who enjoys the park and knows the story of the group over the last 30 years appreciates Friends of Ludington State Park.
Happy 30th Anniversary!
Warren M. Mullen