Review of the Benefits of Parks and an Inventory of Parks in Benzie County, MI Executive Summary and Poster


June 14, 2023 - Author: Mary Kate Bejma, Conor Warren, Michael Wilkinson, Xinyi Yao, Heather Zeigler

The following report was completed by students at Michigan State University in collaboration with Networks Northwest. First, we have compiled a comprehensive literature review of the benefits of greenspace and organized parks for a county. The review covers many benefits, including physical, mental, public, environmental, and economic benefits. The physical benefits section is also split into multiple parts, showcasing different types of physical benefits, each with various sources to back them up. Parks and green space have not only been shown to reduce the occurrence of disease due to cleaner air and water, but organized parks also give people a fun, safe place to get outside and exercise. This encouragement of residents getting out and exercising has just as much of a benefit as the reduced risk of diseases. Organized parks benefit mental health by providing an enjoyable, semi-controlled environment to connect with nature. Lower amounts of greenspace have also been linked to higher feelings of loneliness. In a similar vein, organized parks benefit the public by providing a space for people to gather and host events, which has been shown to help increase one’s feelings of connection with their community. Public parks are also available to be used by anyone, so as long as they are distributed in communities that most need them, they can be a method of fighting social inequality. For environmental benefits, parks provide an area of nature that is protected from outside development, and can help residents further connect with nature, instilling feelings in people that translate into wanting to protect the nature around them. Finally, parks also have an economic benefit to its surrounding community, not only raising surrounding property values, but bringing more people from outside your region to spend money there. The general increase in the physical health of your community provided by parks keep your workforce healthier, resulting in less use of sick days and higher productivity from healthier and happier workers.

A community's economy is significantly impacted by the tourism industry. Many sectors of the tourism industry provide employment opportunities, including hospitality, transportation, and entertainment. Tourism generates revenue for the government through taxes, such as sales taxes and hotel taxes. Furthermore, tourism income can be used to improve public infrastructure and services in local communities as well as promote local businesses.

Over 117 million people visited Michigan in 2021. Tourists alone spent $24.0 billion this year in Michigan, with a total economic impact reaching $43.1 billion. The economy also sustained 298,818 jobs and generated $3.0 billion in tax revenue. In Benzie County, there are approximately 18,000 full-time residents and an estimated
235,000 visiting tourists each year.

Socio-Economic Profile
The next section of the report is a Socio-Economic Profile, which paints a picture of how Benzie County Compares to the State of Michigan in aspects such as age structure, population, race & ethnicity, employment, median household income, and educational attainment. The Socio-Economic Profile shows that Benzie is comparable to the rest of the state in many aspects. Benzie County has a population density of 56.07 people per square mile, and the population is mainly comprised of adults 55 years and older. Benzie’s population has grown since 2012, following similar trends to the greater State of Michigan, except for the drop in population that the State experienced after 2020. Benzie has a similar unemployment rate as the rest of the state, with 5.21% of the county being unemployed whereas the State of Michigan has an unemployment rate of 6.21%. Benzie County also has similar Median Household Incomes to the greater State of Michigan, only slightly lower by around $2,000 in 2016 & 2021. This should be considered an improvement, as in 2011, Benzie County’s Median Household income was nearly $6,000 lower than the State of Michigan in General. Educational Attainment was found to be comparable from the County level to the State of Michigan. Lastly, we see a seasonal population breakdown which shows great increases in population in the summer months due to Benzie’s ample recreational opportunities.

Park and Recreation in Benzie County
Among the 48 parks and 17 lakes in Benzie County, Crystal Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Frankfort Public Beach and Playground offer soft sandy beaches and incredible views of Lake Michigan. There is also public access to the lake.

Analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
An analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of various parks located within Benzie County show how Benzie County has a lot of environmental sites as well as many sports fields. Still, the sport fields contain old facilities, and for the waterfront parks, there are no water activity entrances. Benzie County can use the summer months to attract more people; however, they still need to consider the impact
of climate change.

Admin Structure of Established Parks and Recreation Departments and Funding
Administrative and funding models for established Parks and Recreation Departments in various Michigan Counties were studied. It was found that all are empowered by the County Board of Commissioners and are overseen by an appointed County Parks and Recreation Commission, as dictated by law.

Funding options, such as through millages and DNR Grants. Provided here are tables which show breakdowns of expenditures and revenues from counties of similar demographics to Benzie County with established Parks and Recreation Departments, which can help Benzie County in determining the needs for a Parks and Recreation Department.

We conclude with a set of recommendations from our team, such as implementing a millage, allocating American Rescue Plan Act dollars, or raising funds through recreational events to raise money for this newly established Parks and Recreation Department.

GIS Maps
The last section of our report is a complete set of GIS maps for the public parks within Benzie County to create a brochure for public use.


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