Parks and trails millage?

By Walt Sorg

Ingham County Board of Commissioners to consider a millage for county parks and trails, could be on ballots in 2014

Ingham County may ask voters to approve a major step in promoting non-motorized transportation and restoring beleaguered parks.

On Monday, the county Park Commission approved asking voters to fund a county recreational trail and parks system. The half-mill levy still needs approval by the Ingham County Board of Commissioners to put it on the ballot.

It would raise $3.2 million annually, costing the owner of a $100,000 home $25 a year. The bulk of the money would likely go to maintenance and upgrading existing parks and trails. About one-third would be used for expanding the network of trails.

If approved by the county commission, the millage proposal likely would appear on either the primary or general election ballot in 2014.

The blueprint for expanded trails could be the county’s Capitol Connector System, a master plan envisioning 23 miles of trails winding through Ingham County.

The backbone of the existing trail system is the Lansing River Trail, which stretches from Old Town south to Maguire Park on Jolly Road and east to Hagadorn Road in East Lansing. Plans call for connecting the River Trail to Delhi Township’s trail system at Valhalla Park and ultimately continuing to Mason.

A further system expansion approved by the Lansing City Council last month establishes the South Lansing Pathway, a 3.5-mile non-motorized path parallel to Jolly Road between Waverly Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.

The county’s master plan envisions linking the Lansing system to East Lansing and Meridian Township’s trails, providing a non-motorized link stretching from Waverly Road in the west to Lake Lansing Park. In the longer term, trails would extend from Webberville to Leslie along the banks of the Red Cedar River. Still to be decided is whether the county would take over some locally owned recreational trails or parks, contribute a portion of the tax revenues to local units for maintenance and upgrades or simply run the county system in tandem with local parks and trails.

Cycling enthusiast Linda Lynch of Dansville, who often commutes by bike to her office in East Lansing, said the disconnected system “makes it more difficult for cyclists, particularly those ... accompanied by young riders, to make full use of them.” She sees an integrated trail system as something that “would increase usage and encourage riders from outside the city to ride into town.”

With the perception that most of the money would be spent in the suburban/ urban parts of the county, gaining out-county support could prove difficult.

Republican Ingham County Commissioner Randy Shafer, of Williamston, opposes the millage. “The out-county heavily subsidizes Lansing,” he said.

He noted that Baldwin Park in Onondaga Township and Rayner Park in Mason were both recently dropped from the county budget and turned over to local governments, leaving 13 townships without any county-supported parks.