New Washtenaw County trail fund embraced by non-motorized coalition

This article is part of Inside Our Outdoors, a series about Southeast Michigan's connected parks, greenways, and trails and how they affect residents' quality of life. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

A recent measure supporting the funding of Washtenaw County's trails is being received enthusiastically by the region's biking and walking community.

On March 3, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to create a new special revenue fund to support the long-term maintenance of non-
"This fund will help to keep the county's growing trail system in great condition and allow people to continue enjoying the region’s scenic trails."
motorized trails in Washtenaw County. The measure was brought forward by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission in cooperation with the Washtenaw County treasurer. The measure allows the county treasurer to invest in the maintenance of county parks, natural areas, conservation easements, and trails, similar to how retirement accounts for public servants are often handled.

The fund begins with an initial contribution of $320,000, which will be invested in fossil-fuel-free stocks and green bonds. Return on that investment will be used to maintain the county's system of parks and trails.

That's good news to the Washtenaw County Bicycling and Walking Coalition, which has been advocating for safe and convenient non-motorized transportation options since 2001. In an email statement, the organization's chair, Valerie Shinabarger, praised the county's new financing measure.  

"The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition strongly supports the action that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners has taken to establish a trail maintenance fund," she says. "This fund will help to keep the county's growing trail system in great condition and allow people to continue enjoying the region’s scenic trails."

Shinabarger also had good things to say about the county's collaboration with an organization called the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative on the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail, a non-motorized network which seeks to connect cities and parks across Washtenaw.

"We admire the work that the non-profit Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative has done to build support for the trail system, raise private funds for trail construction, and provide private money for the new trail maintenance fund," she says. "This public-private partnership on trails helps to advance and sustain the county's trail network."
Washtenaw County has finished around 33 miles of the B2B Trail, which is expected to be two-thirds complete later this year.

 Recent work on the B2B Trail has been funded by a roads and non-motorized millage passed by county voters in 2016, as well as by philanthropic funding. 

Ricky Jefferson, county commissioner for District 6 and a member of the county's B2B TrailParks and Recreation Commission, has been a strong advocate for the new trail funding measure. During the March 3 commission meeting, he remarked on his personal experiences with the county's trail system and its value to the public.

"The beauty of the trails that I have been on are just amazing, the quietness of nature, the families that I see," he said. "It's a real benefit for us. Our children are normally at home in front of their computers or their phones, so it's good for us to have those activities."

Going forward, the Parks and Recreation Commission will collaborate with the treasurer on the management of the new fund. It will also have a role overseeing how money is invested. Revenue generated will be directed to a variety of maintenance goals, including safety inspections, debris removal, and minor pavement repair.

The new trail fund is the second of its kind to be approved by the county commission over the last few years. The board agreed to another special fund related to the maintenance of the county's nature preserves in 2018.
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