It can be a challenge to get people to play outside in Michigan winters, but the Ingham County Parks Commission is determined to get people outdoors year-round.
The commission’s 2014 millage was designed to develop more regional trails and parks.
“One of the main goals is to encourage interconnectivity within the counties,” said Matt Bennett, chair of parks commission.
The millage has many projects underway but, similar to roads, trails take a great amount of weather distress and need time to be built. People in the community were concerned about why the county was trying to build new trails if it couldn’t maintain the ones it already had. This sparked Ingham County to spend the first two years of the millage on repairs.
“The first two grants we received on the millage was spent on repairs and the next two grants went toward new projects,” Bennett said.Millage coordinator Melissa Buzzard said, “The process of building trails is a slow and huge process. It takes a lot of people to be on board before we can break ground.”
The parks commission is continuously going to the County Board of Commissioners meeting to try and get grants to build these trails due to the delay. The biggest issue between the county board and the parks commission is their views on what to do with the money. The Board wants the parks to spend millage money quicker instead of holding it in the bank. The reasoning behind holding the money in the bank is because the parks commission wants to conserve the $3.5 million it receives each year just in case a trail erodes or breaks apart.
Volunteer, vice-chair and recreational trail user Jessy Gregg said county commissioners “think we have a lot of money in the bank, but in reality it isn’t a lot. From a park commissioner’s perspective, we like to have some left over money in the bank for maintenance on these trails. For example, the Lansing State River trail has pieces sliding off in the water, so we need to fix it before building a new one.”
Gregg said it costs approximately $1 million to construct each mile of trail, so $3.5 million can pave three to four miles of trails. The millage had many projects set aside to build by the end of 2018, but more than 20 have been pushed to the summer of 2019 due to delays from the first two years.
Buzzard said, “It caused a lag time for us allocating for newer phases and projects to take place because we had to fix so many bridges and trails before. The voters expect trails and parks in their communities and we want to make sure everyone is benefitting from the millage they are paying into.”
The millage is a tax on Ingham County property tax bills. The parks commissioners said residents deserve to know what is happening and where their tax money is going toward.
“People want on-the-ground results, but it cannot happen overnight,” Buzzard said. “Before building a trail, we have to scan the area to see if the trail is going to last a long time in that specific spot.”
Gregg said, “Everyone would love to see trees hanging over them and a river beside them while going on an afternoon walk, but the prettier the trails, the harder to maintain.”
The trail millage was the first to be passed in Michigan and, because of its success, many other communities in Michigan are adopting it. Delhi Township just adopted a parks and trail millage this year and many other communities are talking about it.
The Ingham millage is up for renewal in 2020 and the parks commission is hoping they can keep moving forward with the projects they have already broken ground for and let the people progress.
Buzzard said, “We love working with all the communities and seeing the excitement they get when the project is completed. It is our passion to get people outside, take their family on a bike ride and see what the county has for its residents. We want people to enjoy the recreational parks and trails which is why we hope the millage gets renewed next year.”