Michigan Gov. Whitmer: Use $250M in federal aid to improve state parks and trails

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer detailed a plan Thursday to use $250 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for a "historic investment" to modernize state parks and trails.

The announcement is the latest proposal by the Democratic governor's administration for how to spend a budget surplus and $12 billion allocated to the state through the  American Rescue Plan stimulus package.

"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," Whitmer said in a statement. "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. "

Tahquamenon Falls State Park encompasses close to 50,000 acres stretching over 13 miles.

On Tuesday, Whitmer outlined a plan to invest $405 million over the next three years in an early education program. Last week, she proposed distributing nearly $1 billion in federal funding for small businesses, payroll expenses and a childcare initiative.

The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature would have to sign off on appropriating the funds the governor is targeting. It's unclear how GOP lawmakers will view many of the administration's ideas.

On Thursday, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, introduced a bill that would lift a July 1 deadline for the Legislature to approve a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

Whitmer announced her plan for the park program during an event in St. Ignace. The state experienced a 30% increase in visitors to state parks and recreation areas during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the governor's office. Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry sustains 126,000 jobs and over $4.7 billion in wages and salaries, the office added.

Michigan manages 103 state parks, 1,300 boating access sites and more than 13,000 miles of trails.

"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," said Dan Eichinger, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The proposed money would go to upgrading water and sanitary systems, preserving historic structures and installing and improving park infrastructure, according to Whitmer's office. State parks have a backlog of more than $264 million in deferred maintenance, a description of the new plan said.

Examples of improvements that could be funded include a $4 million restoration of the Lake Linden Trail that was destroyed during a 2018 flood in Houghton County and a $1.6 million project at Cheboygan State Park to replace the water and sewer distribution and electric systems at the campground.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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