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Study: Huron-Clinton Metroparks generate $90 million-plus in yearly community benefits

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

White Lake Township – The 13-park Huron-Clinton Metroparks system generates parks more than $90 million annually in direct visitor spending along with millions more in economic, environmental and health benefits, according to a study released Thursday.

The study commissioned by the park system and conducted by the Trust for Public Land indicates these public lands and outdoor recreation activities across five counties in southeast Michigan are critical resources, especially during the coronavirus pandemic as residents were faced with closures or restrictions of gyms, playgrounds, tennis courts, restaurants and bars. Attendance has boomed at the parks over the past six months.

Ed Klusman of Troy paddles around Stony Creek Lake at Stony Creek Metropark, "Good exercise on a beautiful summer day." 
Boaters on Stony Creek Lake in Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township, Michigan on July 23, 2020.

The parks comprising the Huron-Clinton Metroparks system serve communities across Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. About 5.6 million people visit annually.

The parks system has a $54 million annual budget raised from a .25 perpetual millage and local park fees.

The TPL has published 60 economic analyses across the U.S., most recently in Los Angeles, Colorado Springs and Toledo. This is its first Michigan report. It found vehicular traffic to the parks increased between 31% and 48% in April, excluding others who walked or biked inside.

A newly installed trail counter at Lake St. Clair Metro Park recorded 25,000 pedestrians or cyclists who entered the park that month. 

“We’ve seen people flock to outdoor spaces during the pandemic and we can all agree the substantial benefit that has provided just this year alone,” said Amy McMillan, director of the Metroparks. “This report helped us understand and quantify just how much these amenities, and access to them, benefit and matter to our communities and residents, now more than ever."

The Metroparks system, managed by the seven-member Metroparks Authority since 1940, encompasses 25,000 acres of areas for nature study, hiking, biking, boating and more.

The Metroparks include 55 miles of paved trails, additional miles of natural surface trails, seven golf courses, 10 interpretative centers, two farms, two campgrounds, five beaches, and boat launches and marinas.

“Our research unequivocally shows that the Huron-Clinton Metroparks are strong, smart investments, which provide significant returns to local residents, communities and businesses throughout the region,” said Jennifer Plowden, a senior conservation economist at the Trust for Public Land and lead author of the report. “We hope that this demonstration of the enormous value of parks will encourage health advocates, business leaders and policymakers to continue to support their parks.”

McMillan, authority director since 2018, said the $125,600 study was commissioned out of a desire to show communities the economic benefits of parks.

Among economic impact findings highlighted in the report, completed during the 2020 pandemic:

  • $92.4 million in annual direct spending by visitors to Metroparks in local communities and the tourism economy. Besides the parks’ trials, facilities and programs they also host events like fireworks, national fishing tournaments, marathons, farm festivals, and outdoor concerts.
  • $68 million in nearby residential property values providing value to local homeowners. People were willing to pay more for a house close to a park.
  • $62.3 million in recreation ($32 million) and health benefits ($30.3 million) to residents annually.
  • $1,250 in annual health care savings of an average adult by being physically active in the park system. Those savings are doubled for those 65 and older.
  • $30.3 million in savings to the community due to Metroparks reducing stormwater and contaminated runoff.
  • $2.25 million in lowered air pollution costs due to trees and vegetation in Metroparks.
  • $678 million in total sales generated by 272 sporting goods stores in the region. This spending on recreation equipment, supported by but not exclusive to Metroparks, helps provide industry-specific jobs (3,180 employees) and propel economic impact and development.

Beginning in April attendance during the COVID pandemic increased at all parks but has continued through September.

“Kensington has always been the ‘big dog’ of attendance,” said McMillan. “But we found attendance rising across the system. People want to use the new bikes, kayaks and golf clubs,” she said.

Attendance numbers for September averaged 31.3 percent higher than in September 2019. Vehicle numbers were 76,650 at Lower Huron/Willow, up 47%; Hudson Mills, 30,428, up 40%; Indian Springs, 12,385, up 25%; Kensington, 91,024 up 24%; Stony Creek, 72,103, up 21%; and Lake St. Clair, 51,063, up 17%.

Danielle Mauter, a parks communications specialist, said those numbers were car counts, and because there is more often more than one person in a vehicle, the total number of people in the parks is much higher.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319