Local economic boost? Michigan DNR looks to join forces with communities

ESCANABA – The Department of Natural Resources is not only concerned about the management of natural resources in the state, the agency also seeks to be a partner in economic development in local communities.

That was the message brought before the joint governmental meeting at Escanaba City Hall on Wednesday when DNR representative Stacy Haughey addressed the group. She is the U.P. regional coordinator for the DNR.

Haughey outlined the DNR’s various programs which boost Michigan’s economy including trust funds, grants, and the state’s trail systems.

“Trails are one of our top priorities for our department,” Haughey told the municipal leaders attending the monthly meeting.

There are 3,516 miles of off-road vehicle trails in Michigan including 1,079 miles which are in the U.P., she said.

In addition, there are 6,407 miles of snowmobile trails statewide.

There are 1,180 miles of other trailways used for various recreational purposes. There are 900 miles of state park and recreation area trails, 560 miles of state forest pathways, and 59 miles of state game area trails.

Haughey mentioned a local trail from Escanaba to Hermansville that has been years in the making. Officials are deciding on the uses for the proposed trail and looking to finalize the project design.

The state is also looking at developing a proposal for a water trail along Lake Michigan, noted Lloyd Matthes, executive director of the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission (CUPPAD).

“I think there’s fantastic potential,” he said. “It’s worth looking at. It’s strictly up to the communities.”

Surveys are currently being sent to units of government and other agencies to inform them of the water trail plan and ask local officials if such a program would benefit their community. The municipalities are also being questioned if they would pay for half of a grant to develop the project in their areas, said Matthes.

“A water trail consists of a series of proximate access points that offer public amenities like parking, picnic areas, restrooms, way-finding signs, and camping,” he explained further in an e-mail.

“A complete water trail allows a boater to navigate a river or lake with regular access to restrooms, emergency landings, and camping,” he added.

The water trail plan is being promoted by the DNR and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said Matthes.

In addition to the different trails being maintained and developed in the state, Haughey said the DNR’s trust fund and grant programs also help to improve the economy of local communities.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund began in 1976. The program provides monies to local governments and the DNR to buy land or purchase rights to land for public recreation or land protection. The fund is also used to develop land for public outdoor recreation.

In rural areas, schools may be eligible for recreational grants, said Haughey.

The trust fund program contributed $1.4 million to projects in Delta County from 1976-2011. Schoolcraft County received $514,000 and Menominee County received $755,200 in the same time period.

Haughey also updated the community leaders on the DNR’s Recreation Passport which can be purchased for $10 when residents renew their vehicle licenses.

Like the former state park sticker, the passport allows entrance into state parks and recreational areas and also offers discounts and other perks from local businesses, explained Haughey.

Another topic Haughey briefly addressed Wednesday included the bill which recently passed in the state to make wolves a game species. The Natural Resources Commission will develop the wolf hunting season, she said, adding there are about 700 wolves in the U.P., mostly in the western end.