COVID relief funds could be used for updates to Michigan state parks, trails

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click to enlarge Winding trail through the forest in a Michigan state park. - Shutterstock
Winding trail through the forest in a Michigan state park.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing a major investment in Michigan's parks and trails, saying it would address critical needs in local park systems, connect trail networks and create jobs to boost the state's economic recovery.

The governor wants to use $150 million in American Rescue Plan funds, and the proposal comes on the heels of a $250 million proposed investment in state park maintenance and infrastructure backlogs.

Andrea LaFontaine, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, said during the pandemic, more people than ever were using trails and parks close to home.

"We're hoping that that trend is like the 'new normal,'" LaFontaine remarked. "And that people will continue to get outside because not only are their health benefits, physically, but the mental-health benefits are just as important and critical."

State park needs include upgrades to water and sanitary systems, preservation of historical structures and fixes to other park infrastructure. The recreation industry in Michigan supports 126,000 jobs and sustains $4.7 billion in salaries.

LaFontaine added funds could also go toward improving trail connectivity, noting Michigan's trails stretch more than 2,100 miles across the state.

"People also use trails for transportation, transportation alternatives outside of your car, like maybe if you can bike or walk to work, often they use a trail," LaFontaine explained.

July is Parks and Recreation Month, which Gov. Whitmer made official in Michigan with a proclamation.

LaFontaine contended with last year's record-breaking numbers of Michiganders seeking outdoor opportunities closer to home, it's clear the demand is there for investment.

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