Gov. Rick Snyder’s push for collaborative efforts focused on building Michigan’s economy is reflected in a 41-page report released last week that focuses on the future of Michigan parks and recreation areas.
The report, written by a 16-member blue-ribbon panel, encourages local communities to better utilize recreational opportunities to help promote the long-term viability of all parks in the state.
“We are fortunate to have a well-run, quality network of inviting state parks that add to Michigan’s appeal as an attractive travel destination,” Snyder stated in a news release. “My goal for this panel was to create a blueprint to help state parks adapt for 21st century growth and investment. This report points the state in the right direction.”
Created more than a year ago under Executive Order 2011-10, Snyder tasked the panel with four key objectives:
• Identifying the role of state parks and the importance of outdoor recreation areas;
• Providing a vision for the future of state parks;
• Recommending a strategy for the expansion and proper allocation of expected resources in order to meet the new vision of state parks; and
• Proposing a vision and strategy for future consideration aimed at creating stronger linkages between the state park system and county and local parks to maximize use and cost efficiencies.
Panel members looked at millions of acres of state forest, national parks, regional parks and thousands of local parks and trails in Michigan, in addition to about 100 state parks, which cover more than 300,000 acres of land that are visited by more than 22 million people each year.
While recognizing recreational activities such as fishing, hunting, camping, and boating already bring billions of dollars in revenue into the state’s economy, the panel states there is a growing recognition that recreational opportunities must continue to diversify as public interests change and expand.
The panel — which includes representatives from nature conservancies, trails and marine groups, environmental agencies, and other experts in parks, recreation, and tourism — made seven “core” recommendations and 19 “complementary” recommendations in its report.
The panel’s core recommendations include:
• Identifying and protecting important natural, cultural, historic, and prehistoric resources for the enjoyment and education of Michigan’s residents and visitors, and expanding stewardship of these resources;
• Diversifying funding and using new criteria to target investment;
• Giving high priority to investment in development of regional connected trail networks;
• Encouraging greater connections between communities and their recreational assets to strengthen regional identities;
• Creating four to five “signature parks” in Michigan’s core urban areas as a tool for revitalizing those areas, and integrating green infrastructure in Michigan’s urban redevelopment;
• Integrating tourism and economic development marketing to fully leverage the economic and social benefits that parks and outdoor recreation resources can provide; and
• Prioritizing investment in safety and maintenance of, and access to, parks and recreation spaces.
The report also includes recommendations for eliminating or replacing about $15 million allocated each year for payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) and “swamp taxes” to local governments; changing how future mineral lease revenues will be allocated; conducting an analysis of current funding of the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR); and engaging the medical community to encourage use of parks in prescribed health treatments.
“The panel has heard nearly universally that people are more interested in the quality of a facility or the value of an experience in a park than in which government entity owns or operates it,” panelists stated in their report. “The panel’s recommendations are reflective of both issues, but we have strived to create better linkages between all parks and recreational opportunities, regardless of ownership.
“We have also attempted throughout our recommendations to focus on actions that strengthen the connections between communities and their park and outdoor recreation spaces. We see this as a critical way to build stronger, healthier and more economically robust communities.”