National Group: Michigan has the best state parks system in U.S.
But funding woes, political attacks threaten to erode Pure Michigan asset
The National Recreation and Park Association awarded the Great Lake State its Gold Medal in November. The prize recognizes five communities and one stat that meet the evolving needs of the people they serve through outstanding management and long-term planning.
"This is the result of teamwork, talent and vision that is aimed at protecting our special places and also making sure that visitors have an enjoyable high quality experience," said Rodney Stokes, director of the Department of Natural Resources.
[Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Photo: Travel Michigan/Gary Platte]
One reason for Michigan's victory was the innovative Recreation Passport model parks funding, which replaced the old state park sticker, It provides unlimited access to state parks for just $10 paid through an optional fee on annual vehicle registrations. The program exceeded the DNR'S fundraising goals in its first year, netting the state $18.8 million for the upkeep maintenance and operations of the parks. Nearly 25 percent of Michiganders opted in.
The award and the passport's success are great news for Michigan but they're no guarantee that our parks and natural treasures are secure.
"Parks, recreation and resource staff at the state have done a great job with limited resources," said Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council. "But our State Parks have been consistently underfunded for years. We face a multimillion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance issues, meaning that we have buildings with leaking roofs crumbling water lines and outdated facilities."
Garmon recently was appointed by the governor to serve on a blue-ribbon panel to guide the state parks system in meeting changing needs and populations.
In addition to funding challenges at the federal,state and local levels, Michigan legislators are also busy introducing legislation that would undercut our natural assets, from diverting money away from the wildly popular Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to undermining longstanding protections for critical lakeshore dunes.
Garmon is optimistic nonetheless.
"Investment in outdoor recreation and natural resource protection are vital economic development tools in the new economy. I think there is widespread acceptance of that," he said. " When a college graduate decides where to put down roots or to start their business, they will head to places where they can be active enjoy the outdoors and healthy quality of life. With some smart investments, Michigan can be that place."
-Andrew McGlashen, MEC
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