Van Buren County Parks and Recreation Feasibility StudyDOWNLOAD
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