The Arcadia Creek Festival Place, a park in downtown Kalamazoo. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan
The Arcadia Creek Festival Place, a park in downtown Kalamazoo.

 Local parks that took a beating during the pandemic, but using spare COVID relief funds, Michigan is coming to the rescue of parks departments statewide.  

ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich.—Michigan’s natural beauty is a major point of pride for the Mitten. And during the pandemic, a lot of Michiganders rediscovered the beauty of these parks and trails. 

But unfortunately, the record number of park attendees also left behind debris and damage—worse than a normal summer tourism season. 

At Pictured Rocks, a national park, the lakeshore’s chief of interpretation and education Susan Reece explained that a fear of the virus had guests avoiding bathrooms, leading them to relieve themselves anywhere and everywhere—including on floors. She also said some guests have built illegal campsites after arriving at the lakeshore without reservations, only to discover that campgrounds are full. Still others have left entire coolers in the woods.

That’s left Michigan’s parks and trails in need of repair. 

As Michigan celebrates Parks and Recreation Month in July, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced a $150 million plan to improve Michigan’s parks and trails after a tough year of wear and tear using money from Michigan’s COVID relief funds. 

Good News for Leslie Knope 

But just as both state and national parks took a beating in 2020, local parks and trails are also in need of support. So in St. Clair Shores July 7, Whitmer announced a similar plan for local parks and trails as well. 

Using available federal relief dollars from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, she announced a program that would let the Michigan Department of National Resources offer cities and towns grants to improve and even expand their parks and trails. 

“Michigan is famous for its natural beauty and superb outdoor recreation spaces,” said Whitmer. “We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our local parks and trails, and take concrete action to protect and enhance the natural spaces that our great state is known for. This will improve quality of life for our residents, and promote tourism to Michigan, which will jumpstart our economy and support our local businesses.”  

That means that St. Clair Shores could apply for a grant to make improvements to it’s beautiful Wahby Park, for example. So could the Tip of the Thumb trail in Port Austin.

Andrea LaFontaine, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, hopes that with this kind of investment, the popularity of Michigan’s green spaces could become a new normal after the pandemic, and hopefully may come with less damage in the future.

“[We hope] 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,” she told WDIV. “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.”

Exploring Your Local Green Spaces

In addition to the state’s five national parks, Michiganders regularly visit  one of the more than 100 state parks spanning 306,000 acres. Across those state park acres, there are more than 14,000 campsites and 900 miles of Michigan’s trails. That 900 is nearly half of the over 2,100 miles of trails the state has. 

Find your local parks, or new ones to discover, here.