News and analysis from The Center for Michigan •
©2015 Bridge Michigan. All Rights Reserved. • Join us online at

Original article URL:

Public sector/Quality of life

Trust Fund’s dollars have earned friends across Michigan

ST. IGNACE — It wasn’t long ago that Chief Wawatam Park in downtown St. Ignace was an industrial wasteland, a relic of an era when ferries carried rail cars across the Straits of Mackinac.

The park, named after an Ojibwa chief who visited the area in the 1700s, was … unsightly.

Today, the refurbished site features a mile-long boardwalk that extends from the city’s shopping district to the steel blue waters of Lake Huron, fishing platforms and a splash pad. It has become a magnet for local residents and tourists alike, say city officials.

And credit goes to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, one leader says, for transforming the park and pumping new economic life into downtown St. Ignace.

“I can’t say enough about the Trust Fund,” said Debra Evashevski, executive director of the St. Ignace Downtown Development Authority. “The impact the Trust Fund has had in our community, in preserving our Lake Huron waterfront, is almost immeasurable … It’s helped our city immensely.”

The Trust Fund has earned widespread praise for preserving some of Michigan’s most spectacular natural areas — the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, miles of waterfront property along the upper Manistee and Au Sable rivers and large swaths of forestland in the U.P. — and for ensuring public access to lakes, rivers and forests.

But local and state officials said the Trust Fund’s support of community recreation projects has been just as significant as the fund preserving a sand dune or buying waterfront property to protect a trout stream.

“It’s been an incredible success,” said Steve DeBrabander, who manages the Trust Fund for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “You literally can go in any county in the state and find public outdoor recreation facilities that have been developed, or land that has been acquired, by the Trust Fund.”

The Trust Fund has awarded 1,957 grants totaling $959 million during its 36-year history: $757 million went to buying land; the remaining $202 million was used to develop outdoor recreation facilities.

The DNR has received 61 percent of all land acquisition grants and purchased 165,221 acres with that money, according to a House Fiscal Agency study. Local units of government and nonprofit organizations received the rest of the land acquisition grants.

Local communities received 82 percent of all development grants from the Trust Fund; the state received the remainder, according to the House Fiscal Agency study. Development grants pay for building such things as trails, boat launches, marinas and ball fields.

The fund has supported projects in all 83 Michigan counties. The Trust Fund’s biggest hits include:

* Public lands along the Manistee and Au Sable rivers. The Trust Fund acquired 70 miles of waterfront property and 25,000 acres of land along the rivers.

The Au Sable River has been a prime target of the Natural Resources Trust Fund. (Bridge photo/Jeff Alexander)

* Public beaches and bike paths along Grand Traverse Bay, where the Trust Fund provided millions of dollars in grant to help create public beaches and recreational paths that have become popular among local residents and visitors.

* The Northern Great Lakes Forest Project in the Upper Peninsula. The Trust Fund contributed $16 million toward the purchase of a conservation easement on 248,000 acres of forestland that spans much of the U.P. The conservation easement, which prevented the property from being sold, ensured public access to all of the land in perpetuity.

* The Detroit Riverwalk and William Milliken State Park, where $34 million in Trust Fund grants helped transform an industrial waterfront into a recreational gem that increased public access to the Detroit River.

In urban areas like Jackson, the Trust Fund is connecting people with nature and changing individual behavior, said Brandon Ransom, Jackson County’s parks director.

Jackson County received $500,000 in Trust Fund grants to renovate an abandoned fishing pond and build the 10.5-mile long Falling Waters Trail. Ransom said the trail has spurred economic activity and outdoor exercise in the community; the trail is used about 70,000 times annually.

“Six years ago you didn’t see many bike racks on vehicles in town — now it’s a common occurrence,” Ransom said. “And it’s pretty cool to see kids at the pond with fishing poles.”

Jeff Alexander is owner of J. Alexander Communications LLC and the author of “Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway.” He’s a former staff writer for the Muskegon Chronicle.

No comment yet.Add mine!

Leave your comment...

Your email address will not be published.

Currently on Bridge

Will we be better off if Proposal 1 passes? Former treasurer says yes

An Earth Day pitch: When you hang up the phone for good, toss it the right way

Michigan’s roads affect everyone, so a 'yes' vote on Proposal 1 makes sense

‘Diplomacy Begins Here’ conference aims to illuminate international relations

What NOT to post on Facebook: Jokes about prison rape, when you’re in charge of preventing prison rape

A program to give young offenders a second chance is sending many to prison

Similar accounts in suit over alleged teen prison rapes pose challenge to state's defense

‘New fish’ ‒ One teen inmate’s account of alleged sexual assault

Early learning summit in June could impact Michigan’s children

Money Smart Week: Be penny wise, and pound savvier

Plan B or no Plan B, here’s what happens if road proposal fails

The political tale behind the selling of Proposal 1

A Bridge primer: Untangling the pothole promise of Proposal 1

Who supports, and opposes, Proposal 1

Let's rebuild Michigan through its greatest asset: its water

Could a public boarding school model work in Detroit?

Coalition supporting Detroit schools a step in the city’s road back

Chasing fads? Today’s schools are struggling too much for that

For one Michigan legislative staffer, an hour or two in the spotlight

A cull is a kill, and it’s an overreaction to deer ‘problem’

Lack of college guidance keeps poor and rural students from applying

Those who can, do – and get their hands ‘dirty’ in the process

For one Detroit mom, a complicated path to employment

Detroit by the numbers – the truth about poverty

Michigan should require dental screening for all children entering kindergarten

Where in the world is the Center for Michigan?

After two years, hard to call ACA anything but a success

Bridge’s Academic State Champs emphasizes all the wrong measurements

A graying population poses challenges for Up North counties

Up North, isolation impedes health care for seniors

Enbridge oil pipes and the Straits of Mackinac: Too risky to ignore

Not bigger government, but better services when Community Health and Human Services merge

Two Michigans gaze across a widening gap

In northern counties, workers and business find each other lacking

Hidden poverty stalks a Pure Michigan setting

Postcard: How a git-’er-done spirit helps one rural school district

Postcard: When elk is for dinner

Postcard: Luxe life at Bay Harbor reflects changing economy

Postcard: A roof and a bed

Invest in non-partisan journalism.

Donate to The Center for Michigan. Find out why.