Room-tax Dollars Reserved for State Park Friends’ Wish Lists

Five state park Friends groups have plenty of ideas for how to use up to $100,000 in local room-tax funds for park improvements.

As of Thanksgiving, Friends of Peninsula State Park became the first to decide how to use a $50,000 grant and possibly another $50,000 in tourism dollars from Destination Door County (DDC). State park Friends organizations can qualify for the additional $50,000 match if they meet the DDC challenge to raise another $50,000.

A $750,000 off-road bicycle trail project stands as a priority for the Peninsula boosters. 

Peninsula State Park Superintendent Eric Hyde released a conceptual sketch of possible locations for off-road biking trails, with routes for advanced riders in black, intermediate in blue and beginner in green. Submitted.

On Nov. 15 they approved a motion to go for DDC grants toward the project’s first phase, said Eric Hyde, Peninsula State Park Superintendent. Hyde said the goal is to first build eight to 10 miles of trail within the park. Eventually, they want 19 miles of “purpose-built mountain bike trails” for advanced, intermediate and beginning cyclists.

Hyde doesn’t know the precise location of trails, but he released a preliminary routing map.

“We have a conceptual plan,” he said. “We still have to do an endangered species review.” 

Hyde also oversees Rock Island and Newport state parks. He said the Friends of Rock Island State Park and Newport Wilderness Society haven’t decided which grants to pursue for some of their priorities.

The Friends groups at Whitefish Dunes and Potawatomi state parks had not pinpointed which projects perfectly fit the DDC offer, said Erin Brown Stender, superintendent for those two parks.

The parks and Friends don’t face a stringent timetable from DDC like they would for other types of grants or for large requests for Knowles Nelson Stewardship funds.

“We have not set any deadline because we want them to be successful,” said Julie Gilbert, DDC president and CEO. She said she wants all of the park-supporting groups to achieve their goals and to qualify for all $100,000 in funds from DDC.

This is the first time DDC offered grants from room-tax collections to the Friends groups. DDC research showed the state parks as the most-visited attractions overall in the county, so tourism officials decided to give them support.

Hyde and Brown Stender outlined some possibilities for parks other than Peninsula.

Whitefish Dunes

“The Friends have a list of future projects in mind – several that we hope to complete next year,” said John Swanson, Friends of Whitefish Dunes President. “The main one is the repair and replacement of some stairs going up to Old Baldy.”

Friends of Whitefish Dunes State Park have several projects in mind to use up to $100,000 in room-tax funds. One is improving the walkway to Old Baldy and taking measures to keep people off of the sensitive dune habitat. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

Whitefish Dunes’ park superintendent said she’s not certain which of several planned projects would best fit the DDC offer.

“We’re extremely appreciative of the funds through Destination Door County,” Brown Stender said, noting the Friends don’t want to pass up other grant chances.

“I think they have a favorite idea right now. It’s a large project and it’s going to take some planning,” Brown Stender said of improvements to the steps to the largest dune in the park – 93 feet above the lake level.

The current stairs are safe but need some repair. Also, they lack a barrier to keep people from stepping off of the side onto a fragile dune that harbors federally-protected dune thistle plants, Brown Stender said.

Newport State Park

Newport Wilderness Society members are considering adding features to make pathways toward the beach near Lot 3 more accessible for all users, or to add educational features pertaining to the park’s designation as an International Dark Sky Park. 

Hyde said the volunteers will choose a project for the DDC funding, but they have been busy with another project this fall. Volunteers are putting finishing touches on the 1,800-foot-long Fern Trail boardwalk.

Rock Island State Park

Tina Jacoby said the Friends are considering three or four projects, and most revolve around improving accessibility.

Hyde sees several projects needed to make Rock Island more accessible to visitors who have physical limitations. The first step’s a doozy onto and off of the ferry that takes people to the park, and Hyde would like to overhaul the dock, perhaps with help from the ferry provider.

The park is not wheelchair-friendly, and Hyde said he would like to see switchback ramps that gradually zigzag up the hill that people need to climb from the dock to the parkland. He said the ramps could include benches that can function as seating for rest, or for programs.

For now, it’s not an easy climb.

“It’s a steep hill with loose gravel on it that’s not great for any of us to be walking on,” Jacoby said.


Brown Stender said the Friends have a couple projects in mind, including addition of a shelter by the terminus of the Ice Age Trail or installing a user-friendly and accessible kayak launch. The launch would resemble the one the County of Door installed at Bullhead Point.

This past year, the group helped renovate the 1960s-era main shelter near the fishing dock and finished replacing campsite fire rings.