By Marina Csomor
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
INGHAM COUNTY — Karen Fraser wants Ingham County residents to help decide the future of the area’s parks.
After all, it’s the public who owns them.
“They’re not my Ingham County parks or not the Parks Department’s parks,” said Fraser, who is secretary and treasurer for Friends of Ingham County Parks, a nonprofit organization that works to improve local parks. “They’re something the community owns, so (citizens) really should have the opportunity to have a say.”
This opportunity came in January when Ingham County Parks allowed citizens to offer input on its 2012-2016 Master Plan — a plan which establishes a framework for coming decision-making within the department. More than 700 park users, including Fraser, completed a voluntary online survey on which they detailed what park officials should do not only to maintain the quality of the parks and to improve these sites.
“Our department goal is to be the best at what we do,” Ingham County Parks Director Willis Bennett said. “If we know what people want, that allows us to work toward that goal.”
After collecting the data, Bennett said officials realized many residents simply want the department to maintain the excellence of local parks. Citizens understand economic hardships have limited new projects, Fraser said.
“The Parks Department is struggling with the budget,” Fraser said. “It’s being cut significantly every year. (The future) is going to be challenging with the amount of money they’ve lost in appropriations.”
Besides maintaining park structures, safety and cleanliness, survey responses emphasized increasing awareness of the park system and improving facilities, including constructing a gazebo at Lake Lansing South Park and developing a play structure at Potter Park Zoo.
“There’s no way we could ever accomplish everything in the master plan,” Bennett said. “The master plan is not anything cut in stone, but it is a direction to head toward as we make future plans.”
Information from the survey and a public hearing, which will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 in the Ingham County Human Services Building, 5303 S. Cedar St., in Lansing, will be used to create a final plan. Bennett intends to have the 2012-2016 Master Plan approved by the Ingham County Board of Commissioners as well as Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, and finalized by mid-March.
This is a proposal park officials develop every five years not only for citizen input, but also because the DNR requires public input to any group hoping to receive grant money, Fraser said.
Okemos resident and an owner of Playmakers, 2299 W. Grand River Ave., in Okemos, Curt Munson utilizes Ingham County’s parks for both business and pleasure — including to host events and for recreational activities, such as running.
Although he did not complete the survey, Munson said he’s happy to see the Parks Department ask the community for input. He hopes to be able to attend the Feb. 27 hearing.
“It’s good they understand the public is who they serve,” Munson said. “They’re really open to that.”
One improvement Ingham County Parks should include in its 2012-2016 Master Plan is using social media to make the community more conscious of the many resources the parks provide, Munson said.
“A lot of the parks get overlooked,” Munson said. “A lot of times, people just don’t realize there are some amazing parks available, and they just don’t get used as much.”
Despite being unfamiliar to some area residents, these parks are vital resources, Fraser said.
“They’re huge to quality of life,” Fraser said. “When people are moving to a new area, parks and trails — I think you can always find them in the top five of things people are looking for.”
Munson said he commends the Parks Department for conducting such a survey because improving the park system will make the county more vibrant.
“I think the park system we’ve got in the area is a really a big part of making this community so much better,” Munson said.