Floating playgrounds added at state parks

Visitors enjoy an afternoon at Water Warrior Island at Van Riper State Park in Marquette County

For 100 years, state parks have been known as some of the best places in Michigan to experience a variety of outdoor fun — from boating and fishing to swimming and hiking, plus camping and lodging for those who want to make more than a day of it.

In recent years, Michigan’s state parks are attracting an even wider range of visitors by offering unique ways to enjoy the outdoors, including disc golf, geocaching, yoga and stargazing opportunities at dark sky preserves.

The newest adventure available at state parks takes advantage of one of Michigan’s most popular and defining features — water.

Inflatable water parks, also called aqua parks, add another dimension of family fun at five state parks across Michigan, including Van Riper State Park in Marquette County. These floating playgrounds feature a series of connected inflatable slides, runways, jumping pillows and bouncers that are suitable for both kids and adults.

“We’re always looking for new ways to remain relevant to the public and provide even more reasons to visit state parks,” said Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “In our quest to get more kids and young people outside, we think the water parks add a layer of adventure to the traditional beach experience and offer visitors some pretty exhilarating, exciting ways to challenge themselves outdoors.”

One way state parks have been able to enhance visitors’ experience with water parks and other amenities is through partnerships with businesses offering these services.

Water parks came to Michigan state parks in 2016, when concessionaire Jump Island approached the DNR with the idea.

A Parks and Recreation Division team that works on state park innovations was open to that idea.

“So we offered Jump Island a two-year contract to give it a try. That’s typically how we approach new concession or business ideas, by offering a short-term contract,” said Lori Ruff, concession and lease manager for the Parks and Recreation Division.

At the end of the short-term contract, the business opportunity is opened to competitive bidding as required by state law, Ruff explained.

The first aqua park opened at Holly Recreation Area in Oakland County in 2016, with Jump Island as the first concessionaire.

Other water park vendors soon followed, and the ventures have proven successful for both the concessionaires — with gross sales ranging from $112,000 to $373,000 in 2018 — and state parks.

The concessionaires pay the state a percentage of their gross sales, which goes into the DNR’s Park Improvement Fund.

The water parks also have helped draw more visitors to the state parks.

Located on Lake Michigamme, Van Riper State Park’s Water Warrior Island includes 20-foot water slides, rock climbing walls, trampolines, floating walkways and a ninja-warrior-like obstacle course.

Ticket and reservation information, rules, height requirements and hours of operation vary between each individual attraction. Links to the water park websites and a map can be found at Michigan.gov/DNRWaterParks.

The DNR is hosting the Become an Outdoorpreneur program — designed to inspire new, sustainability-minded entrepreneurs who will help enhance the visitor experience at Michigan state parks, trails and waterways — in Traverse City Aug. 2-4. Attendees can learn from seasoned “outdoorpreneurs” through hands-on experiences, plus get business basics including a business plan and potential return on investment with Davenport University.