Encouraging greater connections between communities and their recreational assets can help promote the long-term viability of Michigan’s state parks, according to a blue ribbon panel’s recommendations presented today to Gov. Rick Snyder.
The finding is one of seven core recommendations offered by the Blue Ribbon Panel on State Parks and Outdoor Recreation, appointed last year by Snyder.
Created by Executive Order 2011-10, the 16-member panel considered the entirety of Michigan’s system of parks and outdoor recreational opportunities at the local, state and regional level – not just state-managed facilities – to recognize their collective role in growing the state’s economy and improving residents’ health and well-being. The report highlights opportunities for these natural resources assets to more creatively meet the needs of current and future generations of residents and visitors.
“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,” said Snyder. “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. I want to thank all the panel members and especially the co-chairs, Erin McDonough and Jon Allan, for their good work.”
In order to meet its goals, the panel said the state should collaborate with public agencies, nonprofit organizations and the private sector to plan, manage and invest in natural resources and recreation programs to drive several key outcomes, including:
- Demonstrating the value of the state’s investment in parks and outdoor recreation;
- Driving Michigan’s economic prosperity;
- Inspiring greater regional identity; and
- Protecting and creating opportunities for the public to experience and learn about Michigan’s natural, cultural, historic and prehistoric resources.
“Michigan’s parks and outdoor recreation areas are iconic, and represent a portfolio of assets that should be viewed by the state as critical to advancing Michigan’s prosperity. They return dividends—social, ecological, and economic—that far exceed the investments made by the state and its local public and private partners,” said panel co-chairs Jon Allan and Erin McDonough in the report. “These assets provide a place to recreate and, at their best, they help make our communities cohesive, connect people to their places and to each other, engender civic engagement, and remind us of our connection to the natural world and to our history.”
Last year, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Michigan state parks and recreation areas earned the National Recreation and Park Association’s Gold Medal Award for operating as the best-managed state park system in the country, excelling in long-term planning and resource management and for its ability to address the needs of customers through creative partnerships.
Building on those strengths, the Blue Ribbon Panel made the following recommendations:
- Identify and protect important natural, cultural, historic and prehistoric resources for the enjoyment and education of Michigan’s residents and visitors, and expand stewardship of these resources.
- Diversify funding and use new criteria to target investments. This includes a recommendation that the state move the Recreation Passport to an “opt-out” system of funding, and pursue expanded revenue bonding authority to address a backlog of priority maintenance and improvement needs at outdoor recreation facilities. In addition, the report recommends re-establishing the State Parks Foundation to accept private donations toward parks projects.
- Give high priority to investment in the development of regional connected trail networks. The report urges development of a comprehensive trails database available through an easily accessible platform.
- Encourage greater connections between communities and their recreational assets to strengthen regional identities.
- Create four to five “signature parks” in Michigan’s core urban areas as a tool for revitalizing those areas, and integrate green infrastructure in Michigan’s urban redevelopment.
- Integrate tourism and economic development marketing to fully leverage the economic and social benefits that parks and outdoor recreation resources can provide.
- Prioritize investment in safety and maintenance of, and access to, parks and recreation spaces.
The report also includes 19 supplementary recommendations, including creating a follow-up panel to address overall natural resources funding; developing a Michigan state park pilot design competition; and enhancing cooperation among health care companies, the DNR and the state Department of Community Health to pilot a health and wellness program centered around outdoor resources.
The panel was comprised of representatives from nature conservancies, trails and marine groups and environmental agencies, as well as other acknowledged experts in recreation, parks and tourism issues. These individuals brought a broad range of perspectives and ideas to the panel.
“Michigan’s state parks have already set themselves apart as beautiful, accessible places for outdoor fun and recreation, and as a springboard for creative local and regional partnerships,” said Snyder. “We want to build on that success and plan for a comprehensive network of great outdoor spaces that spark economic growth and improve health and wellness in every corner of the state.”
The Blue Ribbon Panel report is at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/ParksPanelFinal_401816_7.pdf.
Logo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources