Student Parks Project

Be Spartan Green LogoDNR-MSU Sustainability Partnership

Do you love parks and recreation? Would you like to get an insider’s look at the development, marketing, construction and management planning of your Michigan State Park system? The Student Parks Project is an opportunity to get experience and training, while also working towards your degree. Since January 2012, several courses from SPDC, the Department of Community Sustainability (CSUS), and the Department of Geography, are focusing on selected Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) State Park or Recreation Areas. As part of the project, students visit the sites, interact with DNR staff and apply principles from the classroom to the needs at the parks. Overall the project is guided by principles of economic development, exemplary green design, universal accessibility, community engagement, natural and cultural resource protection and education, and an outstanding visitor experience. Not only do students interact with DNR staff and a real site, but they also are exposed to other students and faculty who are simultaneously studying at the same site. Orientations, meals, travel and reviews cut across multiple classes increasing exposure to new ideas and approaches to meeting public recreation needs.


  • Visitor impacts: The purpose of the project is to improve visitor experiences by upgrading park facilities and operations.   

  • Student impacts: Students who participate in the project will gain meaningful exposure to a real project and have the opportunity to impact future visitors and residents with their ideas, designs and analysis. The project offers research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Community impacts: One of the guiding principles is community engagement. Students will learn techniques for meaningful participation so designs fit with the local vision for their community.
  • DNR impacts: The DNR gains designs, plans, insights, inspiration and research-based recommendations for developments at selected parks and throughout the park system. It is impactful for staff involved who gain a fresh perspective from the students, expert input from faculty, in addition to planning documents and management guidance. The project could even produce a new pool of potential public employees!

2012 DNR-MSU Partnership Map

Study Locations

Sites participating in the project include:


Scholarship is an integral component of this project offering depth of learning for MSU students and faculty, DNR staff, communities and the public. The project is currently seeking funding to support research projects, including graduate assistantships. Research topics include: camping fee structure evaluations, post occupancy evaluations for new or improved facilities, tourism and marketing strategies, public engagement models, economic development analyses, design-based social outcomes, integrated planning and lodging evaluations.


“I'm starting to focus my studies on the marketing of heritage and cultural sites, and am still counting my blessings for being involved in the Cambridge Junction project. It was a wonderful opportunity.” – Barbara Firman, MSU Tourism Master’s Student           

Supporting Articles and Documents