Opinion: Fourth of July holiday highlights danger at state parks

Ken Moore
Ryan McNaboe, right, 25, of Harper Woods, walks with his father, Jerry McNaboe, left, 61, of Bakersfield, CA, at Sunset Point along The Detroit River. The elder McNaboe is visiting his son, who is a sailing coach for the Cranbrook and Grosse Pointe Yacht Clubs. 
XXXXPeople visit Belle Isle after Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials present information about the island to Detroit City Council members, Tuesday afternoon, March 29, 2016. (Todd McInturf, The Detroit News)2016.

Pure Michigan means pure danger at our beautiful state parks.

Incidents that occurred over the Fourth of July holiday put park patrons and state park officers at considerable risk and compromised the safety of all involved. The following incidents happened during the first week of July at Michigan state parks.

  •  Multiple tickets issued for possession of alcohol—drunk and disorderly; parking, trespassing, noise and campground violations; glass bottles on beach; unleashed dogs.
  •  Search and rescue for missing children; body washed up on beach, cause of death being investigated.
  • Assaults on state park officers working alone; female probationary State Park Officer assaulted; alleged rape of female patron on beach, suspect arrested by State Park Officer.
  • Suicidal individual in campground with loaded shotgun; loaded handgun confiscated by state park officer; fight at boat launch; 40-person fight in beach area, incident reported by state park patron.

Times have changed dramatically since the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) adopted a 1999 statute, which placed Michigan conservation officers in the Law Enforcement Division, and state park officers in the Parks and Recreation Division. MSEA represents both groups and has repeatedly brought to the attention of the DNR the lack of training, proper equipment and safety procedures for state park officers, which put them and park patrons in jeopardy.

Conservation officers receive 22 weeks of training—which includes firearms—and are issued weapons, stun guns, soft body armor and proper communications equipment. They are funded by fees charged for fishing and hunting licenses. state park officers receive only 7-8 weeks of training and are issued pepper spray and batons. They are funded by fees charged for camping and recreational passports.

Over the years, state park officers have been called on to help police Michigan’s state parks. Serious incidents have increased in frequency and become ever more dangerous. Many state park officers have even purchased—at their own expense—bullet-proof vests to wear, which the DNR has refused to provide for them.

MSEA will pursue the complaint it filed on behalf of our 320 state park officers with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) on June 29, 2018. MIOSHA works within a 70-day window, at the end of which it will identify necessary corrective measures and issue violations. Any fines would be paid by the DNR, state of Michigan. MSEA will participate in the MIOSHA investigation by producing information and evidence as requested, plus details about specific incidents.

The DNR has ignored the dangerous, escalating situation in our state parks. Do we really want to wait until a tragedy happens before action is taken to protect park patrons and state park officers? This is not Pure Michigan. This is pure danger.

Ken Moore is president of the Michigan State Employees Association.