Opinion: Michigan may lead in funding outside recreation

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The data is in and it’s crystal clear: outdoor recreation is big business in Michigan. However, in order to maintain this, it is imperative for the state to fully devote itself to this growing industry and ensure our outdoor spaces are preserved for generations to come.

When lawmakers return to Lansing next year, they will have a unique opportunity to make a one-time investment in our parks and grounds through the State Park Endowment Fund. This would pay dividends in upkeep and maintenance and benefit Michiganders for decades to come.

The state currently has an estimated budget surplus of $6 billion. A one-time payment of $500 million to the State Park Endowment Fund would equate to nearly $80 million in annual tax cuts—forever—since taxes would no longer be needed to fund the operations of our state parks.

In addition, the fund is adjusted each year based on CPI increases, so there is no risk of it losing purchasing power during inflationary times like the one we are experiencing today.

Fully funding the State Park Endowment Fund would also allow an important funding stream to flow back into the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund — the royalty income from the sale and lease of oil, gas and state mineral rights. These additional funds would ensure that we can protect public lands and maintain our world-class outdoor recreation facilities for decades to come.

According to a report released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the outdoor recreation industry has had nearly $11 billion in economic impact on our state’s economy and supported over 109,000 jobs.

Boating and fishing had the biggest impact on the state’s economy, followed by recreational vehicles and hunting. Michigan ranks in the top 20 in all segments of the outdoor recreation industry tracked by the BEA, including camping, snow activities, and bicycling.

It’s no secret that over the past two years, more and more people have been drawn to nature for hiking through one of Michigan’s national, state, or local parks, spending a relaxing day at the beach, or the solace of camping in the enjoy the hinterland. In fact, our state is a beacon for outdoor adventures, not just for Michiganders, but for people throughout the Midwest.

And the Legislature and Governor Whitmer have a chance to keep it that way.

This spring, the Legislature took a good first step by investing $250 million in state park infrastructure. While this money was badly needed, it won’t last forever.

By using monies from our current windfall surplus to fully fund the State Park Endowment Fund, Michigan can take the burden of maintaining and improving our parks off the backs of hard-working Michiganians now and into the future.

This one-off payment would also meet the 2020 Proposal 1 target long before many thought it possible. Proposal 1, which lifted the funding cap for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, was overwhelmingly accepted by voters because they saw the benefit of supporting the places that make Michigan so special — our Great Lakes beaches and public ones Properties to our trails, trails, parks and playgrounds.

A one-time donation to the State Park Endowment Fund should be a tax break we can all get behind. It ensures that our children and grandchildren do not have to pay for the maintenance of our grounds and ensures that future generations can enjoy Michigan’s natural beauty.

Rich Bowman is the policy director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan.