Slowly but surely connecting parks and trails systems in Ingham County

Tim Morgan arrived in the Lansing area just weeks after Ingham County voters approved a new millage that will raise roughly $3.5 million each year for the development of a new system of trails and parks that may eventually connect communities throughout Ingham County.
 
Morgan, the newly appointed director of the Ingham County Parks Department, will be tasked with helping to plan, develop, and maintain that system. After 22 years of growing and developing the parks system in LaPorte County, Indiana, he felt like the time was right for a change of pace.
 
“It was a perfect time in my life,” explains Morgan. “My oldest daughter just got married, my youngest is a sophomore in college and Ingham County Parks has so much to offer and the potential to achieve even greater things with the Trail and Park millage.”
 
Before he can begin to sink his teeth into the nitty-gritty details of developing the count trail system, a few other people have to have their say.
 
The local planning and development process went into full swing earlier this month when the recently formed Trails Task Force met for the first time. Teri Banas, a former Merdian Township park commissioner and current Ingham County commissioner, was appointed to head the task force.
 
Banas acknowledged the expectations among voters are high after they committed nearly $20 million to the effort over the next six years.
 
“The voters handed us a great responsibility, along with their confidence, in November,” says Banas. “We are all thrilled at the opportunity this presents for finally being able to deliver some long-delayed improvements to our parks and trail system.”
 
Many community groups are excited about the potential impact that a well-formed and extensive trail system could have on the health and wellness of the public.
 
Steve Leiby is the treasurer of the Tri-County Bicycle Association and he believes trails will offer greater opportunities for people who want to exercise outdoors but may not be comfortable on busy streets and sidewalks.
 
“The trail millage offers an opportunity to significantly expand the current trail system to attract more people to bicycle riding and enjoy local parks,” says Leiby. “Expanding the trails will translate to more people exercising outdoors; which is good. 
 
It should be noted that while the millage proposal passed handily in November, the idea was met with opposition in the rural sections of Ingham County. Out county residents have a long history of opposing new taxes. Leslie city manager Brian Reed explains that rural residents often feel disconnected from the services their tax dollars support.
 
“For the trails and parks millage, there is a feeling like that is an extra millage that the out-county folks will pay without seeing a benefit locally,” says Reed. He went on to say that he hopes the trail system will eventually reach as far south as Leslie.
 
Many of the people involved in the decision making process understand the concerns of the rural areas and hope that the trail system will eventually reach every corner of Ingham County.
 
Members of the Ingham County Parks Commission met in January to discuss, among other issues, their individual priorities for the millage funds (full disclosure: I am a member of the parks commission). Ideas presented included connecting pre-existing trails developed throughout the region and expanding the system into the outlying areas of the county.
 
Banas notes that while the millage funds may seem like a lot of money when it comes to developing and building trails, there are other factors to consider.
 
“Obviously, $3.5 million a year for six years is a great deal of money,” explains Banas. “But it's just a fraction of the cost of large scale capital improvements, which can run  $1 million per mile of new trail, and some pricey repairs to older, existing trail systems within the county.”
 
One thing everyone involved can agree on is that nobody should expect trail development anytime soon. Community input will be gathered over the next year while committees and planners continue to meet.
 
In the meantime, Tim Morgan is planning to make 2015 a year for, well, planning. He wants to develop a new Five Year Master Plan for the parks department while also engaging the public and the various community leaders in dialogue as the trails task force and the parks commission work toward moving dirt for trail development.

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Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.
 
Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
 
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