Riders can enjoy all the park has to offer, including fishing, by booking a ride to Lake St. Clair Metropark from the SMART bus stop at 15 Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue in Clinton Township.

Riders can enjoy all the park has to offer, including fishing, by booking a ride to Lake St. Clair Metropark from the SMART bus stop at 15 Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue in Clinton Township.

Photo provided by Huron-Clinton Metroparks

Take the SMART way to Lake St. Clair Metropark

Pilot program to connect bus riders to park

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published September 7, 2021


HARRISON TOWNSHIP/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Although there are 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks in southeast Michigan, transportation is a barrier for some seeking recreation.

“We’ve been discussing for, it feels like, forever about how we can connect public transit to the Metroparks,” said Amy McMillan, Metroparks director. “Theoretically and philosophically, we and many of our partners have been committed to finding a solution to this problem for a long time.”

With help from Harrison Township and SMART, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have kicked off a pilot program to connect bus riders on Gratiot Avenue in Clinton Township with Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township, beginning Sept. 3.

Harrison Township acquired grant funding from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to study the idea of adding Lake St. Clair Metropark to the SMART Transit route, bringing the three entities together to find a solution for the problem. McMillan said that when they began discussing the idea with SMART, they were able to find a way to develop and launch a pilot project to connect the park with public transportation.

“I just can’t say enough great things about the people at SMART and their out-of-the-box thinking and their willingness to really make this happen,” she said.

The Metropark Express, powered by SMART Flex, will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Sept. 5, 2022. Riders will use a mobile app to schedule a ride on the Express from the 15 Mile Road stop on Gratiot Avenue to four locations within Lake St. Clair Metropark.

SMART Flex fares cost $2 per person each way, with reduced fares for seniors, riders with disabilities and youth. Riders who transfer from a SMART bus route, however, ride for free, as do children 5 years and younger. Wait times for a ride will be about 15-20 minutes after the ride is booked, and riders will not have to pay to enter Lake St. Clair Metropark.

SMART Flex vans carry up to five passengers at a time, but if a reservation is made for a larger party, SMART will send multiple vehicles to transport visitors to the park. Wheelchair-accessible vans can be requested. Beach bags and coolers are allowed, as long as riders can load and unload them from the van themselves and they can be held on their lap or under their seat during the ride. SMART will be installing bike racks on Flex vans soon to allow riders to bring their bicycles.

Riders will be dropped at one of four locations in the park, including the Nature Center, the daysail parking lot, the main plaza and the boat launch. McMillan said they are working with staff to better utilize the park’s interior bus service to help move visitors from one location to another within the park.

Harrison Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest said he thought bringing bus service to Lake St. Clair Metropark seemed like the right idea.

“I think it’s ironic that the very people that would benefit from easy access to Lake St. Clair are limited because none of the SMART routes connect to any of the Metroparks,” he said, explaining that he believed people without personal vehicles should have the same access to the lake and the park that he and other residents with vehicles have.

Just like when ordering an Uber or a Lyft, SMART will provide riders with the driver’s name, vehicle model and license plate for safety reasons. Masks are required while riding any SMART service.

“We’re putting Metropark annual permits on the SMART Flex cars. We have barcodes on them (so) we’ll get the data of when they’re coming in,” McMillan said, explaining that will allow Huron-Clinton Metroparks, Harrison Township and SMART to determine if there are any gaps in service. She said they will also want to hear feedback from users to better sustain and potentially expand the program to other Metroparks.

“It’s both a small step and a giant step because nobody’s figured it out before,” she said. “Taking this big step is something we’re excited about and super grateful to our partners for supporting this.”

Harrison Township residents consistently support the SMART millage, Verkest said. He believes that metro Detroit has to be more creative in the way it provides mass transit than other large metropolitan areas, and this is a step in the right direction.

“In the end, I’m confident a majority of the people that we all represent in government want to give access to transportation and access to the Metropark to everyone,” he said.

Riders can use the SMART Flex app to book Metropark Express rides, or call (734) 212-8429. For more information, visit smartbus.org.