PRESQUE ISLE TOWNSHIP - Members of the Negwegon, Rockport and Thompson's Harbor Advisory Committee expressed their concerns that friends groups for the various state parks might have to buy insurance.
At a meeting for the advisory committee Tuesday night, Friends of Thompson's Harbor State Park Frank Krist said he was concerned friends groups would have to make the cost-prohibitive purchase to protect themselves from liability. Buying insurance was part of a new agreement with the Department of Natural Resources, and Krist also questioned whether the suggested amount of coverage was enough.
Krist expressed these concerns to Blake Gingrich, Hoeft State Park supervisor, and Eric Ostrander, unit supervisor for Harrisville and Negwegon state parks. Both were sympathetic to his concerns, and Gingrich said he's in favor of the friends groups and what they do.
"We're doing a big friends group push right now," he said. "I wouldn't have a playground without my friends group."
The Friends of Thompson's Harbor was one of the first friends groups to see the agreement with the DNR, Gingrich said, adding he wasn't sure if it would be changed soon. Ostrander agreed, pointing out they might find out more at the upcoming friends group summit.
Krist said he believed friends groups members could be covered under a recent bill, as well as the state's Volunteer Act. So long as members were acting with the blessings of the DNR, and weren't grossly negligent, they should be immune from liability.
Gingrich disagreed, saying he believes there's a difference between a volunteer for the DNR and a friends group member.
Either way, if friends groups are forced to buy insurance, it could threaten their survival and push volunteers away from helping the DNR improve its state parks, Krist said.
"It simply isn't fair to ask friends groups to raise that kind of money for liability insurance and for their projects," Sue Maxwell, NRTH board member, said.
The agreement was meant to be a way to get friends groups and the DNR on the same page, Gingrich said. Some parks have several groups for different activities, and they occasionally butt heads and try to undercut each other. By only entering into agreements with the groups that agreed to work with the DNR and other friends groups, the department could avoid these problems.
Ostrander urged everyone to be patient, saying he believed the friends group agreement to be a work in progress. He also said he hopes to get the issue resolved once and for all.
"I personally don't want to have to come to NRTH meetings and have to talk about this every time," he said.
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