Van Buren County Parks and Recreation Feasibility Study


August 15, 2022 - Author: Jared Bonk, Thomas Herman, Cole Brennan, Kelly Humes, Will Karnes, Mitchell Rickard, Taylor Van Winkle

In Southwest Michigan, all counties have a county parks and recreation department responsible for managing, maintaining, improving, and expanding county parks systems. Across the state, nearly half of all counties (44.6%) have a parks and recreation department at the county level. Communities with a 5-Year Plan are uniquely eligible for access to funding, for instance:

  • For fiscal year 2022, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has $3.3 million to allot to counties for the Waterways Grants Program.
  • Annually, the Land and Water Conservation Fund allocates $900 million in grants nationally for conservation at the county level.
  • In 2019, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund awarded $28.6 million for county park projects.

There is a potential pool of $931.9 million in available to Van Buren County with an established parks and recreation department with a 5-Year Plan. Potential funding could be utilized for improvements and expansions to Van Buren County’s current 122.7 acres of county-owned parks, which include:

  • Syndicate Park and North Point Conservation Area
  • Paw Paw Park – a heritage site
  • County Fairground
  • Veteran’s Horticulture Garden – under development
  • Hartford Kayak Launch – under development

Based on examining comparable Michigan county parks and recreation departments and existing Van Buren County resources, creating a department in Van Buren County is feasible with the following recommendations:

  • On average, 5 FTEs are needed to run a department with their park size
  • Hiring a full-time Parks and Recreation Director
  • Hiring a full-time Assistant Parks and Recreation Director or Parks Manager
  • Hiring approximately five seasonal hires for maintenance and operation during peak months
  • Implementing a volunteer system
  • Establishing an annual budget of approximately $245,000 for operations of this size and scope
  • Leveraging a 0.07 PA 90 Millage (MCL 123.64) for park improvements, management, and maintenance (generating approximately $247,240 annually without a public vote)
  • Diversifying funding sources beyond a millage, such as hosting events and programs, securing grants, and/or implementing an annual park pass/ or park user fee for county residents and non-residents
  • Promoting partnerships at the local and regional level with governmental and non-governmental entities
  • Diversifying promotional strategies such as word of mouth, social media (i.e. Facebook and Instagram), and localized events


Accessibility Questions:

For questions about accessibility and/or if you need additional accommodations for a specific document, please send an email to ANR Communications & Marketing at