New pilot program will soon offer public transit access to Lake St. Clair Metropark

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 joint collaboration between Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) will soon bring the first ever public transit connection to a Southeast Michigan Metropark.

Starting Sept. 3, a new pilot program called Metropark Express will begin offering transportation service from SMART's Gratiot and 15 Mile Road bus stop to Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. The Metropark system and SMART hope that the new service will increase equitable access to the park and encourage users to engage in healthy outdoor recreational activities. 

"We can't say enough how excited we are about this program," says Amy McMillian, director of Huron-Clinton Metroparks. "If the primary reason you were not able to get to a Metropark is because you lacked transportation, this is a way of filling that gap."

The project got started in the fall of 2020, when the Metroparks authority and officials with Harrison Township began discussing applying for a Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Transportation Equity grant to help plan a transit project. Not long afterwards, SMART joined in the discussion as well. Their conversations went well and the partners quickly began marshalling resources to make the pilot program a reality. 

The new transit option makes use of SMART Flex, a micro-transit service that allows riders to book an on-demand ride using a mobile phone app. Using SMART Flex, travelers can schedule a ride on the Metropark Express to travel the last couple of miles between the Gratiot and 15 Mile Road bus stop to several locations within the Metropark.Those locations include the plaza, which allows access to the beach, pool, golf and other amenities; the boat launch, the nature center, and a daysail area.

McMillian believes that a successful pilot program at Lake St. Clair Metropark could lead to further collaborations between Huron-Clinton Metroparks and SMART.

"If this goes well, there's no reason it can't be replicated at every one of our parks in the SMART service area," she says. "This is a big, big step towards making that happen more universally."

The Metropark Express service will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Sept. 3, 2021 to Sept. 5, 2022. 

Rides on the Metropark transit service will cost $2 per person and will be free to passengers transferring from a SMART fixed bus route. Reduced fares are available to seniors over the age of 65, people with disabilities, and youth. Children under the age of 5 can ride for free. Those using the service do not have to pay park entrance fees. 

Smart Flex Vans can handle up to five passengers at once. For reservations of more than five people, multiple vehicles will be deployed to transport park visitors. Wheelchair-accessible vans can be deployed upon request. All riders must wear masks, as required by current federal guidelines. Beach bags and coolers can be transported on SMART Flex vans, provided that they can fit on a passenger's lap or under the seat while riding on SMART's fixed bus routes. 

Visitors can book a ride on the Metropark Express via the SMART Flex app or by calling (734) 212-8429.

Map of Metro Express drop-off points at LSC Metropark
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Read more articles by David Sands.