BY CAROL THOMPSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — State officials are expected to pour more than $5 million into northwest Michigan public recreation sites, an effort to expand access to lakes, rivers and playgrounds while protecting some areas from commercial development.
State legislators agreed to use money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to purchase and develop public property using royalties from the state’s sale of mineral resources, an agreement that awaits Gov. Rick Snyder's signature.
The trust fund generated almost $1 billion for public recreation since its inception in 1976.
“It’s really about improving public access and protecting some very sensitive land," said Glen Chown, executive director of the nonprofit Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.
More than a quarter of the total funding for property purchases would go to the Grand Traverse area, and more than half of that local funding is slated for two projects on Old Mission Peninsula.
A $2.5 million project would purchase more than eight acres of the Old Mooring Place to build a new boat launch and attempt to ease traffic at the Haserot Park boat launch and provide better access for fishing and boating on East Grand Traverse Bay.
“(The launch) is in a great location, but it’s adjacent to the beach and there’s a lot of concern about the children and the boats coming and going,” said Peninsula Township Trustee Penny Rosi. “The Old Moorings property is separate from Haserot Park by a relatively short distance.”
The other Peninsula Township project would add 60 acres to Bowers Harbor Park, more than tripling its size.
The trust fund board chooses properties submitted by municipalities and state agencies that are best suited for funding, then submits a list to the legislature for approval. Properties that can be used for trails, deer refuge, wildlife corridors or to fill in gaps in heavily state-owned areas are more likely to receive funding.
Jon Mayes, state Department of Natural Resources Recreation Grants Manager, said the trust fund board started to purchase more land in urban areas about four years ago, rather than purchase land in the Upper Peninsula where the state already owns considerable acreage.
“It’s a movement to try to acquire land where the people are, rather than with high gas prices having people drive up north to recreate,” he said.
Chown said protecting land from development is good for the economy because recreation and natural beauty promotes tourism, new businesses and population growth.
"We know this area’s going to grow, it’s a given, but you also need to balance that growth with protecting outstanding natural resources and improving your recreational assets,” he said.
Eighty-six total properties statewide are proposed for purchase or development this year, totaling more than $27.5 million. Other local properties include:
• Strombolis Lake, 160 acres in Grand Traverse County, $1 million, to fill gaps in state-owned land and provide possible opportunities for mountain biking and wildlife habitat.
• Dair Creek, 240 acres in Benzie County, $700,000, to fill gaps in state-owned land and protect almost a mile of Dair Creek, a cold-water trout stream that feeds the Betsie River.
• Boardman Valley Nature Preserve, 30 acres in Grand Traverse County, $270,000, to add more than 2,500 feet of frontage on the Boardman River.
• Thurston Park improvements in Antrim County, $162,500, to add a new bath house, walkway, boardwalk and dock space on Central Lake.
• Sands Park improvements in Kalkaska County, $30,900, to add two play structures.