Macomb CountyJanuary 14, 2014
County officials seek public input on parks and rec plan
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
MACOMB COUNTY — Over the next few weeks, Macomb County residents will have the opportunity to review the county’s new parks and recreation master plan and offer their own suggestions or revisions.
The proposed plan was first released on Jan. 7 and will be available for public review and comment for a period of 30 days. The 65-page document can be viewed online at www.macombgov.org/mcped, while a hard copy of the draft is also available at the Macomb County Planning and Economic Development Department, located at 1 S. Main St., 7th floor, Mount Clemens, MI 48043.
According to John Paul Rea, a senior planner with the department, “We didn’t want to just make this a top-down plan where Macomb County tells everyone what we want to do. We wanted this to be a more dynamic process where residents can give us input about what parks and recreation amenities they would like us to focus on going forward.”
County officials are also leveraging social media for public comments on the proposal. Links to the document and elements of the plan will be showcased on the “Make Macomb Your Home” Twitter account, @makemacomb. Meanwhile, any inquiries regarding the proposal can be directed to the Planning and Economic Development Department in person or via email at plan firstname.lastname@example.org.
Macomb County last updated its master plan in 2007. Under Michigan’s Guidelines for the Development of Community Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Plans, the county must revise its parks and recreation strategy every five years in order to be eligible for state grants. In the past, Macomb County has obtained grants for improvements to Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights and enhancements to its nonmotorized trail network.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with this new document and what it offers,” Rea said. “Under our new (executive) form of government, we believe that we can provide better parks and recreation opportunities for county residents.”
Stephen Cassin, executive director of the Planning and Economic Development Department, added that county officials “are using fresh and innovative planning tools to enhance parks and recreation. By building off the incredible assets that we already possess, we can engage new users and a wider network of partners.”
With the new master plan, county officials are focusing on a number of key areas: capital improvements at Freedom Hill, expanding the county’s network of bicycle and walking trails; enhancing regional parks like Dodge Park in Sterling Heights, as well as metroparks like Stony Creek, Wolcott Mill and Lake St. Clair; bringing more festivals and community events to county park facilities; and partnering with Wetzel State Park in Lenox Township and more than 140 local parks across the county.
In addition, officials hope to allocate county resources to nature preservation at the Nicholson Nature Center in Clinton Township and its 33-acre floodplain conservation easement. They also want to tie many parks and recreation programs into the Executive Office’s “Blue Economy” initiative — which seeks to utilize Macomb County’s freshwater assets for economic development — by improving public access to sites like Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River.
The new plan devotes a great deal of space to a comprehensive community profile, an updated administrative structure, a detailed inventory of existing parks and recreation properties, and an action plan for proposed investments and improvements. Rea pointed out that the extensive demographic information contained within the document is crucial to giving communities and individuals what they want.
“Above all, our plan has to be receptive to the people we serve,” he said. “So it’s imperative for us to provide these detailed community breakdowns if we want to have a strong understanding of Macomb County demographics and our existing parks and recreation resources.”
Rea admitted, however, that the ambitious goals outlined in the plan will be a challenge to achieve in Macomb County because the county currently has no parks and recreation administration, no stakeholder or volunteer networks and, most critically, no sustainable funding source. While neighboring counties like Wayne, Oakland and St. Clair have enjoyed successful parks and recreation millage renewals over the last few years, Macomb and Monroe are currently the only counties in southeast Michigan without their own dedicated parks and recreation millage.
Rea indicated that county officials are looking into the possibility of a millage as a new funding option, as Macomb County currently has to subsidize its parks and recreation expenditures from the general fund each year. But there are no plans at the moment to add full-time parks and rec staff, as Rea believes that current county employees “can help facilitate parks and recreation development with their own extensive knowledge and experience.”
The proposed master plan has won the support of County Executive Mark Hackel, who is hopeful that county officials will be able to receive additional funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“This is a really comprehensive and impressive plan that our Planning and Economic Development Department has put together, and I encourage people to take a look at it,” Hackel said. “We want to enhance our quality of life here in Macomb County by making better use of our land and water resources. If we can secure some DNR trust fund money for this plan, that’s when I think you’ll really see it take off.”
Although the new master plan outlines numerous goals and objectives for Macomb County, it does not prioritize certain projects over others. Rea explained that this is where public input can help to shape where county officials focus their parks and recreation resources over the next few years.
“To some extent, we do have our own priorities in mind: the nonmotorized trails, the Blue Economy and Freedom Hill,” he said. “But we also want to be more dynamic and be able to cater to the needs of our municipal partners. We hope to engage with our local parks and recreation providers to leverage some of their resources and make better use of what we already have. This is all about making sound and impactful investments for Macomb County residents.”