Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 25, 2012

Editorial: Panel lays out a few good ideas


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---- — A panel made up of people from nature conservancies, trail groups and other users has recommended ways to improve and revitalize Michigan's state parks system, which has fallen on fallow times. The 16-member group, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, issued its recommendations last week. They make good sense.

The key recommendation, perhaps, is a call for finding new funding sources for parks, including seeking bonding authority to reduce a backlog of maintenance needs.

The panel also recommended re-establishing the State Parks Foundation to accept private donations, creating more regionally connected trail networks, establishing four or five so-called "signature parks" to help revitalize core urban areas, and stepping up marketing efforts.

Starting with stabilizing park funding, this is at least a partial list of needs. A few years ago the Legislature was cutting the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' budget, and the DNR in turn was cutting back on upkeep and maintenance in the park system. Usage was down, and the closure of some camping or beach areas didn't help.

A couple years ago the state adopted a system already used in other states where drivers could buy a yearly "passport" that would allow them unlimited entrance to all state parks and campgrounds if they agreed to spend an additional $10 on their vehicle registration.

It's been a hit, but more is needed to restore the system to its former glory.

Re-establishing the State Parks Foundation to accept private donations seems a no-brainer; it's hard to imagine it was ever allowed to go away.

Creating more regionally connected trail networks, particularly ones linking local systems, will give cyclists more options than ever before. The Grand Traverse area, where trail users can ride or walk from Suttons Bay to Acme and, eventually, around Boardman Lake, is a great example of what linking can do.

Urban parks, like Milliken Park on the Detroit River, can be real quality-of-life changers.

This is all good stuff, particularly linked to another initiative to offer instruction in outdoor activities like kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, archery, disc golf, fishing and orienteering, at state parks.

That leads directly to a final recommendation — that the state do more to market the system, once one of the best in the nation. We're already spending millions on the Pure Michigan campaign to lure visitors to Michigan, so spending some effort and money on luring Michigan residents to their own parks makes perfect sense.

Park visitors become park supporters, and our amazing system needs all the supporters it can get.