State parks, trails would receive $250 million in federal stimulus under Whitmer plan

ST. IGNACE, MI — Positioning the state as a leader in the recreation industry is the aim of a new plan by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to use federal stimulus funds to modernize state parks and trails in hopes to become a more attractive destination for tourism.

The governor announced the plan that calls for a record $250 million investment toward Michigan’s 103 state parks Thursday in St. Ignace.

Whitmer’s plan would use federal relief dollars from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan for new investments in parks and trails and to address the backlog of park infrastructure projects, which will help support Michigan businesses and local economies, according a news release.

“Tourism is vital to Michigan’s economy and to our overall economic health, and COVID disproportionately harmed our tourism and hospitality sectors,” Whitmer said. “This is a valuable use of our federal funds to help the communities who rely on tourism rebound from the public health crisis.”

Tourism to Michigan parks generates value for the surrounding communities, as they create jobs, and sustain small businesses. On average, every $1 invested in land conservation leads to $4 in economic benefit, officials said.

Investments in parks uplifts communities and would help Michigan continue to jumpstart the economy as the state emerges from the pandemic, Whitmer said, adding that parks bring people together, regardless of politics or race.

As residents used the state’s parks to stay active while socially distance during the pandemic, the state saw a 30% increase in visitors to its parks and recreation areas. Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry supports billions in state GDP and sustains 126,000 jobs and over $4.7 billion in wages and salaries in Michigan, officials said.

“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 League of Conservation Voters.

The state’s plan to use stimulus money to update its 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, Johnson said in a statement.

“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. “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.”

Not only will the investment fulfill the needs of state parks, local city, township, county and regional park systems will now be priority recipients of grant funding and other alternative sources, said Clay Summers, Executive Director of the Michigan Recreation and Park Association.

“This investment will not only help Michigan’s State Parks but in the long run, it will truly help all parks in the state,” he said.

In 2012, a 16-member Michigan State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Blue Ribbon Panel reported seven core recommendations to then Gov. Rick Snyder, including a recommendation to invest in the safety and maintenance of parks and recreation spaces. The panel said that implementing the recommendations would position Michigan to meet the needs of its residents, visitors and communities throughout the 21st century.

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