By NICK McWHERTER
Capital News Service
LANSING- Gov. Rick Snyder has established a 16-member panel to study how to better fund state parks and recreation areas and to attract young people to them.
He’s charged a Blue Ribbon Panel on State Parks and Outdoor Recreation to explore innovative models that better serve Michigan residents.
Goals include meeting the demands of future generations and linking recreation areas to surrounding communities, said Erin McDonough, co-chairperson of the panel and executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.
“It is time for us to take a fresh look at natural resources management in the state,” McDonough said. “We have a tremendous opportunity here to elevate the wealth of resources that we have and showcase them as the quality of life that we want to have here.”
Twenty-five million visitors are drawn annually to 100 state parks and recreation areas across Michigan, according to state officials.
Michigan state parks system recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.
“People overall today are very disconnected from the outdoors,” McDonough said. “Most people spend over eight hours a day in front of a screen and they spend very little time outside. I think that a challenge that we face is how to provide the opportunities, the incentive and the knowledge people need in order to bridge that disconnect.”
Improved state parks and recreation areas can be a key to establishing a link.
“The administration wants to chart a course to make them more relevant to a younger crowd going forward, making them really a part of Michigan’s economic recovery,” said panel member Brad Garmon, the director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council.
Garmon hopes to influence younger generations with simply being able to experience the outdoors.
“People think about why they live in Michigan or if they move away what they miss about Michigan, it’s the outdoors; it’s the Great Lakes state,” Garmon said.
“Seasons that change, diversity of recreational opportunities, the beauty of lakes and forests, that is kind of ingrained into what people think about when they think about Michigan. Parks are the avenue by which people experience that.”
The panel will look for ways to diversify Michigan parks to attract a broader range of residents and establish a funding structure, Garmon said.
Funding for state parks and recreation areas has undergone a transformation recently. Passes can be obtained each year when renewing a vehicle license. Garmon said the change will bring more money in for state parks and a greater incentive for permit holders to use them.
Funding cuts have created a backlog of maintenance and upgrading problems, Garmon said. “As with all things, money is going to be an important part of this conversation.”
The panel consists of members from different areas with varying viewpoints.
Said McDonough: ”We are going to be able to craft a strategy that is going to guide the future of these resources so that they really become an intrinsic part of who we are as a state, and drive us forward, both economically and as part of our natural resources heritage.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By NICK McWHERTER