DNR given green light, $16M for state park improvements

Photo courtesy: Michigan DNR; At roughly 60,000 acres, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State...
Photo courtesy: Michigan DNR; At roughly 60,000 acres, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is Michigan's largest state park. It is home to old-growth forest, roaring waterfalls, miles of rivers and streams, more than 90 miles of hiking trails, the Lake Superior shoreline and more. (FILE)(WLUC)
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 12:14 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Lodge renovations, upgraded electrical and water distribution systems, preservation of historic structures and stabilization of riverbanks for trail resurfacing – at first glance, these may not be the most glamorous, but they are some of the “shovel ready” projects identified by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from among its long list of critical needs in Michigan state parks.

The DNR has given the green light – along with $15,962,000 – to state park projects in Bay, Cheboygan, Delta, Iosco, Mackinac, Monroe, Ontonagon, Saginaw, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

It’s all part of the DNR’s Phase 1 funding made possible through Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Building Michigan Together Plan, a $4.8 billion infrastructure package signed in March. The legislation includes a record-setting $250 million to help address a decades-long backlog of repair and maintenance needs at state parks and build a new state park in Flint. That funding stemmed from the federal relief program, the American Rescue Plan.

“Michigan’s state parks are beloved, defining features of our beautiful state and because of the bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan I signed earlier this year, we are investing resources to show our parks some well-deserved love and much-needed TLC,” said Gov. Whitmer. “State parks support tens of thousands of jobs and countless local economies, empowering tourism and recreation small businesses across the state. Together, let’s keep improving them by addressing operational and infrastructure needs and ensure Michiganders have stunning public parks to enjoy for generations to come.”

DNR Director Dan Eichinger said this first phase of funding is part of a thoughtful, deliberate evaluation of needed projects at Michigan state parks.

“For more than 100 years, state parks have anchored communities and provided safe, clean spaces for people to connect with nature and historical resources and enjoy the outdoors. During the COVID pandemic our parks welcomed people in record numbers,” Eichinger said. “We are grateful and gratified to launch this first phase of critical maintenance, repair and upgrade work, knowing that every project will help us deliver even better visitor experiences and outdoor recreation opportunities for visitors of all ages and abilities.”

Phase 1 projects

The first round of projects includes the following, listed alphabetically by county:

  • Bay City State Park (Bay County): $1.5 million to refresh and renovate the interior and exterior of the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center. Renovations include the reception area, exhibit hall, roof and siding, and the addition of a new science lab. General improvements include enhancements to make the park more accessible for all visitors.
  • Cheboygan State Park (Cheboygan County): $750,000 to construct upgraded electrical and water distribution systems in the modern campground. The project includes the replacement of below-ground water mains and electrical conduit, meters and distribution panels, as well as upgraded jug fillers and electrical pedestals. An additional $2 million is proposed in later phases for additional investments in the sewer system.
  • Fayette Historic State Park (Delta County): $600,000 to reconstruct the south wall of the west casting house in the park’s historic townsite – where visitors can take a walking tour of 20 original structures from the once-bustling, late-1800s, iron smelting industrial community. This is the first phase of a historic preservation project in the park.
  • Fayette Historic State Park (Delta County): $400,000 to reconstruct approximately 300 feet of retaining wall adjacent to the historic charcoal kilns in the park’s historic townsite. The kilns were constructed to produce charcoal for blast furnaces to smelt iron ore. This is the second phase of a historic preservation project in the park.
  • Tawas Point State Park (Iosco County): $455,500 to repair water-damaged brick on the historic Tawas Point Lighthouse. The work will be completed by professionals specializing in historic architecture for maritime buildings.
  • Straits State Park (Mackinac County): $2 million to replace the two upper campground toilet and shower buildings, which will mirror finish details from newly constructed buildings in the park’s lower campground.
  • Sterling State Park’s Heritage Trail (Monroe County): $425,000 to stabilize the riverbank in preparation for trail resurfacing. This is the first phase of an improvement project that will leverage federal funding to improve the slowly eroding embankment between the river and marsh lagoon. An additional $3.57 million is proposed in later phases for further investments in erosion control.
  • Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (Ontonagon County): $1.4 million to renovate and preserve the Kaug Wudjoo modern lodge, staff quarters, mechanic’s shop, carpenter’s shop and fire barn. Renovations include the construction and replacement of new roofs and siding, as well as enhancements to accessibility features. Utility and structural upgrades also are included in ongoing historic preservation efforts.
  • New state-county park in Saginaw (Saginaw County): $867,000 to construct parking areas and a park entrance for a state park already in development on the old General Motors site and nearby landfill – a reclaimed brownfield site on the Saginaw River. The project will include the construction of new concrete bumpers, solar lighting, parking gates that meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, fencing and signage. The park will be jointly managed by the DNR and Saginaw County. This project is considered one of the final steps in establishing this new state park, which was originally supported with two grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
  • Waterloo Recreation Area (Washtenaw County): $65,000 to install a new fishing pier with more universally accessible features at Portage Lake in the Portage Lake Campground. The project will match a federal grant and state funds.
  • Belle Isle Park (Wayne County): $7.5 million to remove lead paint and replace both the glass and upper steel structural members that support the upper dome (also known as the Palm House) of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. This project is the second phase of a comprehensive plan to revitalize one of the nation’s oldest turn-of-the-century glass house still in existence.

What’s next

Federal funding requirements say that ARPA funds must be obligated (committed to a project) by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent on that project by Dec. 31, 2026.

Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, said the first batch of projects is out for design and bid, and the DNR expects to announce selected Phase 2 projects in the coming months.

“Michigan’s state parks and recreation system has experienced a 30% increase in visitation over the past two years, while at the same time dealing with more than 20 years’ worth of critical infrastructure needs,” Olson said. “There’s no question this is a historic investment. It will enable us to rehabilitate numerous infrastructure assets in state parks and along the state’s paved and natural surface trail system, and help the DNR better position our facilities to accommodate current and future recreation trends and welcome new generations of parkgoers.”

To help the public stay up to date on these projects and learn more about the funding and decision-making, the DNR has created a website at Michigan.gov/StateParksProgress, which includes:

  • An interactive map identifying proposed project locations, details and status of funded state park projects.
  • FAQs.
  • State parks facts and figures.
  • A photo gallery.

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