The world of recreation is one Alexis Hansen is not only very familiar with, but it’s clearly her passion. Originally from Isabella County, Hansen moved to southern Colorado for several years after high school, then returned to mid Michigan to earn her degree in outdoor recreation from Central Michigan University. From her first job doing seasonal park maintenance for the City of Mt. Pleasant, to her current role as Director of Parks & Recreation for Isabella County, she’s held an impressive repertoire of recreation positions, including jobs at Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids; YMCA in Colorado; Hiawatha National Forest in Munising; and facilitating Play on the Way Mobile Recreation for CMU. Before becoming the Director of Isabella Parks & Recreation last July, Hansen provided outreach for the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.
“I’m an enthusiastic hiker, reader, gardener and traveler who loves to explore scenic outdoor settings,” shares Hansen. “I’m enthralled with keeping the world wild and natural wherever possible and love working in a job that facilitates interactions between people and the outdoors.”
Discover more about Hansen, a “happily-busy” wife, mom of two young kids, ten chickens and a dog—who is passionate about Isabella County recreational opportunities—in this Q&A with Epicenter.
A view of the Chippewa River from the suspension bridge at Deerfield Nature Park. Photo Courtesy Alexis Hansen
Tell us about your role as Director at Isabella County Parks & Recreation—you’ve been there for about six months now. What is your day-to-day like?
Mid-January will be six months on the job and really there is no day-to-day routine. One day I may be meeting an engineer at a park property planning a project, the next I may be on the computer writing staff reports for the Board and answering emails. Things pop up all the time because of the variety of facilities and the scenarios that come with managing them. It’s an exciting balance of planning and then also being able to switch gears at any given time. The Parks staff is an incredible team. Working cohesively with them is the only true day-to-day constant.
Coldwater Lake Family Park Campground. Photo Courtesy Alexis Hansen
There’s a lot that falls under the Parks and Recreation umbrella for Isabella County. For those not so familiar with your mission, can you share more about the opportunities you provide residents and visitors?
Isabella County Parks and Recreation is a robust system. Deerfield Nature Park and Meridian Park are natural, rustic parks excellent for hiking and taking in nature. Both parks have kayak launches, with Deerfield having the addition of disc golf and land navigation courses, a swim beach, and pavilions.
Coldwater Lake Family Park and Herrick Recreation Area both offer modern campgrounds, rental pavilions, recently built playgrounds and swim beaches.
Majeske Landing and Gilmore Park provide fishing access on their respective bodies of water. A true gem of the system is the 8.25-mile portion of the Pere Marquette Rail Trail running through the northeast corner of the county. It is a paved rail-trail for walking and biking, connecting Midland to Clare.
Adjacent to the trail, Isabella County also owns an 11-acre protected parcel of habitat called the McDonald Wildlife Sanctuary.
There really is something for everyone, whether you are looking for quiet and solitude in the woods, or a fun-filled, plugged-in camping experience and everything in between.
To paraphrase, our mission is to enhance the lifestyle of residents and visitors through responsible management of the public recreation facilities I just described.
Meridian Park meadow. Photo Courtesy Alexis Hansen
Last month, the Isabella County Recreation Master Plan 2024-2028 was released, based on input from a public survey conducted in Fall of 2023. A public review process of the draft is currently underway through January 15. A Public Hearing will be held at the County Board of Commissioners meeting on January 16 at 7 p.m. at the Commission on Aging building located at 2200 S. Lincoln in Mt. Pleasant for further discussion. What are some highlights of this five-year master recreation plan you want the community to know about?
The master recreation plan is a really powerful tool for guiding operations, but also creates eligibility for Michigan DNR grant funding, which has been critical for park projects throughout the department’s history.
Some projects the plan includes are trail improvements throughout the park system, adding overlooks and renovating vault toilets, improved accessibility for park infrastructure, creating more access to bodies of water, renovating park cabins and improving campgrounds, among others. Goals outlined in the plan range from natural resource protection, to providing new recreation opportunities.
The entire focus isn’t on projects; factors of park management like maintaining financial stability and researching sources of revenue are also addressed in the plan goals. The wonderful thing about the plan is that it contains some dream projects, but also a lot of practical strategies for responsible management of our beautiful parks.
If the plan is adopted, what are you most looking forward to implementing?
The thing I’m most excited about for our park users, me being one as well, is the possibility of adding additional trails and scenic overlooks, and just executing overall updates to the facilities wherever they may need a little love. I’m also motivated to seek grants for cabin and campground renovations, which are included in the plan, and could happen if grant funding became available.
Pere Marquette Rail Trail. Photo Courtesy Alexis Hansen
Is there anything else happening in 2024 that’s new, exciting, or something you want every resident of Isabella County to know about?
2024 will be a busy year for Isabella County Parks as we begin work on Herrick Recreation Area improvements, funded by the $319,000 MDNR Spark Grant awarded to us at the end of 2023.
We will be adding some new Leave No Trace signage to Deerfield Nature Park, and mile markers to the rail-trail thanks to funding from the Mt. Pleasant Area CVB and Friends of the PMRT.
Also, a recently completed playground will be available for the first time at Herrick Recreation Area in the upcoming season.
The potential for other projects to begin is definitely real. 2024 will be a year of observation for me as a new director, seeing where we thrive and where we can improve in the future in order to best provide recreation opportunities for Isabella County.