Whitmer announces ‘historic’ $250M state parks investment

Kayaking at Sleepy Hollow State Park (Susan J. Demas|Michigan Advance)

By Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance

Speaking from the Straits State Park in St. Ignace on Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her plan to put $250 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars toward “critical investments” in Michigan’s state parks and trails to increase recreation and tourism.

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, state parks and recreation areas saw a 30% increase in visitors. Whitmer said she hopes to continue that momentum by modernizing parks and trails, improving access and ensuring preservation of public land.

“Tourism is vital to Michigan’s economy and to our overall economic health, and COVID disproportionately harmed our tourism and hospitality sectors,” Whitmer said. “Investments in our public spaces make Michigan a more competitive and attractive destination for tourism, position us as a recreation leader, and are critical components of our seasonal and rural economies.

“This is a valuable use of our federal funds to help the communities who rely on tourism rebound from the public health crisis. Parks bring us together. They are equally beloved by all Michiganders, regardless of geography or income, race or class or politics,” Whitmer continued.

As identified by the Michigan State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Blue Ribbon Panel in 2012 under former Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan’s state parks have a backlog of more than $264 million in deferred maintenance for aging historic structures, camping facilities, water and sanitary systems and more.

“As the number of visitors to Michigan’s 103 state parks has increased dramatically over the past couple of years, we’ve seen greater demands [on] our park and trail infrastructure,” said Dan Eichinger, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “The funding announced by the Governor today will give our state parks a badly needed boost, while also aiding the state’s recovery through our natural resources and outdoor recreation tourism.”

Whitmer’s $250 million plan would include these areas of investment:

  • $4 million to finish restoration of Lake Linden Trail in Houghton County — trail was destroyed in 2018 flood
  • $2.5 million at Algonac State Park for maintenance, improvements, construction of new office and more
  • $1.8 million at Straits State Park for replacement and construction of bathrooms at campground and day-use area
  • $1.6 million at Cheboygan State Park to replace campground’s water and sewer distribution and electric systems
  • $1 million at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon for resurfacing, reconstructing and repaving
  • $300,000 at Fort Wilkins State Park in Copper Harbor to upgrade campground’s water and sewer system

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) issued a statement Thursday in support of Whitmer’s plan.

“The COVID-19 Pandemic brought to the fore the importance of our parks and outdoors for recreation, solace and our health, as well as their enormous impact to our tourism industry,” said Bentley Johnson, senior partnerships manager for the Michigan LCV.

“Gov. Whitmer’s plan to use American Rescue Plan money to update our parks will help address the backlog of maintenance and repair projects for our state parks and trails and put our outdoor recreation industry on the pathway for success as we recover from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Johnson added.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.