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historic photo of people grilling at a campsite with a camper in the background

Park expansion after World War II

World War II brought prosperity with more jobs and more financial security for many workers. But wartime production schedules meant that workers had little time to vacation. Additionally, gas was not readily available for civilian vacations. 

In 1943, state park attendance declined to 3.9 million, less than half of what it had been in 1930. This occurred even as wartime prosperity allowed state government to invest more money in parks.

After World War II, as veterans returned home, there were too many workers and too few jobs. Michigan’s population grew by 70,000 and these new residents needed recreation areas. In 1943, at Gov. Harry F. Kelly’s request, the Conservation Commission made recommendations and reports for the acquisition of parks and recreation areas in southeast Michigan, aggregating about 100,000 acres in all.

This expansion was a part of P.J. Hoffmaster’s vision for the Department of Conservation: that it would create a ring of recreation areas around Detroit to serve the needs of the growing urban population. Hoffmaster realized early on that as southeast Michigan expanded, it would need adequate space for recreation.

During its 1944 session, the Michigan Legislature set aside $1 million to buy Porcupine Mountains State Park (the park was later named Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park) and another $3 million to buy land for recreational spaces in southeast Michigan. Another $1 million was meant for the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, which was established in 1940 with a condition that the surrounding five-county area would come up with matching funds.

The checkerboard of parks in southeast Michigan today is thanks to this land acquisition program. Some important parks that came out of this include Island Lake, Pinckney, Pontiac Lake and Proud Lake, among many others. 

This expansion had a clear effect on park attendance. When the first state parks were established in the 1920s, yearly attendance was measured in 1922 at about 244,000 visitors. By 1955, state parks welcomed roughly 17.8 million visitors – a 70-fold increase. During the same time period, Michigan’s population rose dramatically from 3.9 million to 7.3 million, an increase of over 180 percent.