More trails, more water access recommended in public lands report

Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

This map details ownership of public lands in Michigan. Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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.

“Hunting and fishing generate $1.3 billion and $2 billion, respectively, for the economy, with much of that being driven by easy access to pPublic Landsublic lands,” according to the report.

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.

  • Tom M.

    At the meeting last week, a nice lady talked about a water trail, paddler friendly all around the state. Be nice if they had some fish to catch.

  • Matt

    I did not see anything about mountain bike(single track) trails. Anyone know if that is in the works?

  • Gary

    This quote excerpted from the article is curious and defies logic and common sense.

    “Public lands define Michigan,” said Stine. “They are our most important natural assets.

    When it comes to natural assets (resources) I’ve heard over my lifetime that Michigan is defined by water and the Great Lakes, but never by “public lands.”

    All states have public lands but none have more freshwater
    than Michigan.

    Gary Wilson

  • Harold

    Back around 1980, there was a push to create a “Greenfield State Park” in Dearborn just up the road from Greenfield Village and the Ford World Headquaters. This 1/2 square mile state park would have been one of the most visited state parks in the state, but the DNR had no interest. They were still wedded to the notion that people need to travel up north to recreate; and they seemed completely oblivious to the econonic boon this would have been for the region. There is still no place for campers or folks with recreational vehicles to camp when visiting Greenfield Village, a Tigers game or a multitude of activities that draw tourists to the region. Sadly, that opportunity is now lost because of inaction and subsequent development.

    We are now also losing the potential for a tremendous park along the Detroit riverfront, as open space gives way to new developments which will lock up the land for generations, if not forever. The City of Detroit also has plans to sell to a developer for $1 prime riverfront land between Milliken State Park and Chene Park. Since the state now runs Detroit, why are they letting this happen? Do they just not care? Or do they still have no vision?