Whitmer proposes using $150M in federal dollars for local parks

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ROBINSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited the Grand Haven area Tuesday to propose that the state spend $150 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars on local parks.

Whitmer announced her proposal at Connor Bayou Park in Robinson Township with a backdrop of kayakers in the Grand River. The park is part of the Idema Explorers Trail that, when finished, will link Grand Rapids to Grand Haven.

“I feel like I stepped into an Ottawa County advertisement here, and it’s great,” Whitmer joked. “I can see why the pride and glory of this county is, of course, the people who call it home, but also the phenomenal offerings that we have right here.”

Under the governor’s plan, the $150 million would be divvied up in grants administered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Municipalities could use it to modernize, including improving accessibility, and create new features like playgrounds, boardwalks and trails.

“Now the younger generation is getting to run around and roller skate and have fun time, and that is part of nature and part of God’s plan,” said Bea Idema, the Idema Explorer Trail’s namesake.

Whitmer said the money she wants to devote to parks would help jump-start the state’s economy coming out of the pandemic. In a release, her office said Michigan’s parks support a tourism industry that employs some 126,000 people. It said every $1 put into parks yields $4 in economic benefit.

“We know that our investments in parks and recreation make Michigan a more competitive and attractive destination for tourism, and it pays enormous dividends for our seasonal and rural economies,” Whitmer said. “We also know that COVID disproportionately hit our tourism and hospitality sectors, and so that’s why ensuring that communities like this have the resources and support they need to emerge successfully from this pandemic is so important.”

She also noted that Michigan parks saw more people visit in the last 16 months when getting outdoors was one of a few safe activities.

“So after a pandemic that exacerbated and exposed so many underlying issues and put a strain on our collective mental health and physical well-being, we need our parks more than ever…” Whitmer said. “With the investment that we are proposing today, we can help Michiganders continue to enjoy the nearly 4,000 local parks and tens of thousands of miles of trails for generations to come.”

Whitmer, who has also labeled July Parks and Recreation Month and Lakes Appreciation Month in Michigan, previously proposed spending $250 million on state park upkeep and upgrades.

Whitmer says the park funding is just one step to help the state bounce back from the impacts of the pandemic.

“We’ve got a real economic come back in the works. We are seeing our GDP growing faster than any other state in the region, our employment numbers are lower, Fitch upgraded our credit rating in the middle of a pandemic, we’ve got over 62% of our population vaccinated,” Whitmer said. “We are doing a lot of great things to support this come back, but it’s going to take some time.”

All the spending the Democratic governor has proposed linked to the American Rescue Plan must still be approved by the Republican-led state Legislature.

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