County-wide recreation plan ready to play out

MANISTEE — Over the next five years, an unprecedented type of plan will play out right here in Manistee County.

Currently under review by the State of Michigan, the Manistee County-wide Park and Recreation Plan has already put all 20 of its municipalities, as well as the board of commissioners, on the same page — so to speak — concerning the future of recreation in the area.

The goal now is to have economic development follow suit.

“Recreation is a huge tool for Manistee County as well as all of Northwest Michigan,” said Manistee County planner Rob Carson, who, in collaboration with the Alliance for Economic Success, facilitated the wide-ranging plan for the past two years. “There’s direct data that displays the amount of investment into our communities that occurs through tourism and recreation.

“What we wanted to do was create a baseline plan that brings every community together in a collaborative process and establishes a state-approved plan for each of them,” he added. “As we move forward, we’ll be implementing recreational site improvements, improving access to water and land resources for people of all abilities … and create linear trail development, for both snowmobiles and non-motorized use.”

Through data analysis and public input, the detailed document combines approved recreation plans of all 21 municipalities within the county, outlining their goals and future projects while strategically connecting them and calling for trail development across the county.

The Manistee County Board of Commissioners put its stamp of approval on the plan in February, after each individual municipality did the same in the months leading up to the final public hearing on the plan.

The extensive document meets the Five-year Park and Recreation Guidelines outlined and required by the Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources in order to be eligible for Natural Resource Trust Fund Grants. Carson said that’s where the process is at now.

“They have approved the plan itself — the content of the plan,” he said. “What they are working on right now is insuring that each of our communities has the required adoption and recordation materials for the plan.

“The state requires us to turn over those resolutions of adoption from each community and then they also require us to provide the minutes from each of those local units of government, displaying that they held a public hearing and that they adopted the plan.”

Carson explained that those minutes are still being acquired since each have to be approved during respective governmental meetings following the recreation plan’s approval, which are typically held the following month.

“That’s what’s going on right now,” he said. “We’re getting those minutes back from communities now, and we’re submitting those to the DNR.”

To kick off the five-year plan, Carson said the AES is currently writing grant applications for units of government that have already been formally approved.

He said his department will continue to drive the plan forward over the next five years, and because of its detail, resubmitting the document when that cycle is up should be a simpler process.

“We want to continue to support and help each of these communities collaborate and discuss among themselves what we’re trying to provide recreationally in Manistee County,” Carson said. “We also have a very strong baseline document now that we can go back and edit or revise to resubmit to the DNR.

“It was a very long process to put this plan together — we’re talking 26, 28 months, ultimately — but since all of that baseline data is there, the revision process will be basically editing a lot of what already exists.”

Carson said a recreation summit is also in the works.

“Similar to the Manistee County Regional Summit that we hold, we’re looking at organizing one where the focus is solely on recreation,” he said, citing the inaugural event may be scheduled for May or June. “We want to convene representatives of all of our communities and we’d like to have representation from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the U.S. Forest Service, the DNR, the Land Conservancy and maybe Consumers Power.

“We would obviously present the plan and where we want to go, but we’d also like to have some guest speakers there who are familiar with regional approaches to recreation, so we can see some best practices on how to implement a plan like this on a countywide basis.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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