More public access to forests, lakes and trails are among the goals the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has in store for public lands.
A department report details a strategy for increasing recreation, protection for natural resources and economic growth, said Donna Stine, the policy coordinator for the agency.
One component is more trails for horse enthusiasts, especially in Southeast Michigan.
“We have a large equestrian community and they do like to use our trails,” Stine said. “We have trails in Northern Michigan and some in Southern Michigan, primarily at state parks, but there is a lot of community interest in creating more of them.”
The report calls for connecting and extending 10 existing trails in Macomb, Oakland and Livingston counties.
Mike Foote, president of the Michigan Horse Council, said, “The governor wants our state to be a trails destination. In order to do that, the state needs a wide variety of opportunities for riding in both the populated areas and the more backcountry areas.
“Many people hit the trails to see wildlife because horseback riding offers a better opportunity to see wildlife close up,” Foote said. “Elk viewing is extremely popular in northern Michigan where the elk herds reside.”
Among the DNR goals outlined in the report are more access to heavily forested land, small lakes and Great Lakes waterfront.
“Public lands define Michigan,” said Stine. “They are our most important natural assets.
“Not every citizen in the state has access to private lands and we believe that the public wants more access, whether it’s to recreate, or for solitude or for picking mushrooms.”
Of the 4.6 million acres of state land, more than 3.8 million are forests, 352,000 acres are parks or recreation areas, and 360,000 are game areas, according to the report.
Most public land is in the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula. But residents and environmental advocates have been asking for more access, according to DNR.
Marvin Roberson, the forest policy expert at the state’s Sierra Club chapter, said, “People come here from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, etc., to recreate, to hunt, to fish, to boat, to camp, to hike, you name it, because public lands make that stuff available to people who don’t own land.”
Most of those states don’t have much public land, which drives hunters and tourists Michigan’s way, Roberson said.
Stine highlighted the importance of trails for tourism.
“We know two things: The public is using trails and they want more trails.
“Michigan already has an amazing trail system – the Belle-Isle-to-Ironwood project was proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder as a showcase for our trails that has since gotten a lot of play across the nation – and we believe that will be a great tourist asset.”
Also included in the DNR report are plans for revitalizing cities with “green infrastructure” such as building energy efficient buildings and solar panels and five more urban parks.
The governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on State Parks and Outdoor Recreation called for the new parks.
The idea is to use parks to help build communities of people in cities, “something like what Central Park does for New York City – it increases the property values around it and it attracts commercial development,” Stine said.
Roberson said the report was produced as a part of a policy debate about how much public land the state could own. A law passed earlier this year caps public land ownership and the report was written in part to help lift the cap.
The Legislature is reviewing the report and the DNR is taking public comments.