Gov. Whitmer announces $250-million plan to upgrade state parks, using federal stimulus

LANSING — The wide-ranging impact of billions of dollars in federal stimulus funding arising from the coronavirus pandemic continued to be felt Thursday when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to spend $250 million to upgrade state parks and trails.

© Michigan Department of Natural Resources Baraga State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in an undated photo.

Whitmer made the announcement at Straits State Park near St. Ignace in northern Michigan, with the Mackinac Bridge as a backdrop.

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“Investments in parks can uplift communities as we emerge from this pandemic,” Whitmer said at the event, which was livestreamed by WWTV (Channel 9&10).

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The proposal requires approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Whitmer said the state has a backlog of $264 million in parks maintenance requests. Proposed spending will include the upgrading of water and sanitary systems, preserving historical structures, and fixing vital park infrastructure, Whitmer said.

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The state is receiving more than $6.5 billion under just the latest federal stimulus program arising from the coronavirus pandemic, the American Rescue Plan, after earlier receiving billions under the earlier Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Much of the planned spending is not directly related to the pandemic.

But Whitmer said Thursday there is a connection because the pandemic disproportionately hurt Michigan’s hospitality and tourism sector. The proposed investment will help the overall economy by making Michigan more attractive as a tourism destination, she said.

Dan Eichinger, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said more than 35 million people visited state parks last year, up 32% from the year before. This year that trend is continuing “and even growing,” he said.

The extra stress the growth in visitors is placing on state park infrastructure means “this is exactly the time and need to make this kind of investment,” Whitmer said.

The state also has 13,000 miles of trails that need to be upgraded, Eichinger said.

The governor also called on the Legislature to work with her on a long-term plan to fund state parks.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Gov. Whitmer announces $250-million plan to upgrade state parks, using federal stimulus

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