Park Land is Plentiful in Southeastern Michigan

In Southeastern Michigan there are more than 2,300 parks which are owned and operated by either the federal government, State of Michigan, a local municipality, the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority or a private entity. The footprint of these parks covers more than 214,000 acres and much of these parks are concentrated in the more heavily populated areas of Southeastern Michigan, such as Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. For example, in the City of Detroit there are 359 total parks, which range in size, type (passive, active, trails, etc.) and ownership (city, state, private).  Parks are viewed as an essential service because they increase economic value, provide health and environmental benefits and create an aspect of community, allowing for greater socialization. Furthermore, understanding how accessible parks and recreation amenities are can help communities prioritize improvements that serve more people.

In Southeastern Michigan 1,847 of the parks in the region, or 80 percent, are owned and operated by local municipalities. For example, of the 359 parks in Detroit about 350 are owned and operated by the City itself, the others are owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources or private entities. Private entities in the region own and operate the second highest number of parks in the region, followed by counties. The way in which counties prioritize parks in the region varies greatly. For example, in Macomb County there are only two county parks—Freedom Hill, which serves as an entertainment center, and the Macomb Orchard Trail, which is a 26 mile long multiuse path that is overseen by a board comprised of a county representative and one person from each community that also pays into the system. In Oakland County there are 13 parks and in Washtenaw County there are well over 20 different parks, many of which are nature preserves.

Public parks are largely funded by public monies and each municipality’s priorities are reflected in how their dollars are spent. So, in the case of Washtenaw and Oakland counties, for example, we see that the counties themselves place a higher priority on access to parks. The emphasis on parks and recreation opportunities in communities can not only be seen by how the general fund dollars are allocated to such amenities, but also by if there are additional taxes voted on by residents to further increase parks and recreation amenities and access to them.

While funding allocations to parks differ from one county, and community, to the next, we do know that access to parks in the region is easily attainable for most. As noted, majority of the parks are concentrated in more heavily populated areas, but according to the Southeastern Michigan Council of Government’s (SEMCOG) 2019 Parks and Recreation Master Plan, parks and recreation opportunities are accessible within a 10-minute drive for nearly every household in the region. Additionally, according to the study, a 10-minute bike ride provides access to parks for 89 percent of households in the region. The study does show that for 42 percent of households in the region access to parks within 10 minutes of walking or use public transportation is not attaintable, posing a barrier of access to those who may not have a reliable use of their transportation. The lack of a strong public transportation system in the region does prove to be problematic for those who want/need reliable access to parks, especially the region’s largest parks. Since larger parks are located in less populated areas those without reliable transportation of their own, who may rely on public transportation, will have greater difficulty in reaching the larger parks. SEMCOG’s Access to Core Services report state that 7 percent of all households and 13 percent of transit-dependent households are within a 30-minute transit trip to a park greater than 200 acres in size.

The maps below highlight where parks are located in the region.

As noted, parks are viewed as an essential amenity within a community. However, funding to maintain and improve parks and recreation amenities is also vital to ensure such access. While we know majority of the region can access parks and recreation opportunities currently, we will further look into some of the funding structures that allow for such access in a later post and evaluate their long-term viability. We will also look deeper into the access of parks as it relates to the socioeconomic makeups of communities in Southeastern Michigan.

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