"Aye, aye, my friend, t'is real, and we've got the treasure map!" (Now I'm talking.) That's the amount of money distributed since 1976 for approved recreation projects in the state of Michigan from the Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF). Over thirty years that's an annual average of $20 million! In recreation circles, that's a huge pile of coins and jewels. The entire 4600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail limps along on an annual budget of under $1 million.
If your eye pauses at articles about recreation projects as it slides across the printed word, you've noticed lately that a number of governmental units have been spiffing up their five-year master recreation plans. Mason County and Manistee County each have whole web pages devoted to keeping the public informed about those documents (masoncorec.wordpress.com/ and manisteecorecreation.wordpress.com/) The City of Scottville recently amended theirs in order to add purchase of riverfront property and development of recreation facilities on the old Mason County Landfill site. And Hart is working hard on theirs in order to refurbish John Gurney Park.
Those plans are the key to the treasure chest– no plan, no chance to dip your hands into the chest full of gold doubloons.
How did the chest get so full of loot? The coffer is filled by annual revenues from the development of State-owned mineral resources, largely oil and gas. The Fund is governed by a board of trustees which meets six times a year, and the meetings are open to the public.
Pirate chests are seldom filled by taking a vote, but that's how this treasure came to be replenished, by law. The Michigan legislature created a fund, the Kammer Recreational Land Trust Fund, in 1976 which received a portion of revenue from state-owned mineral rights. But if you remember voting in 1984, the public– you and I– passed Proposal B to establish the MNRTF I vaguely remember punching my ballot card and cynically thinking, "right... I wonder where this money will eventually be sidetracked." But I was wrong to be so wary.
Over the thirty years, Mason County has benefitted to the tune of $7.7 million, Manistee County– $10.9 million, Lake County– $145, 000 and Oceana County– $888,000. Familiar local projects which have received funds include the Hart-Montague Rail Trail, Ludington Waterfront Park and Scottville Riverside Park. Manistee's downtown Riverwalk, and Lake County's Shrine of the Pines have also benefitted. The big local winner was the settlement with Miller Brothers for the acquisition of Nordhouse Dunes, over $4 million for that project alone. And various other projects in the four counties, 23 in all, have received grant money.
Twice each year, projects are approved to receive funding. Three-quarters of the projects are required by law to be for land acquisition, with the rest allowed to be for recreational development. Only one third of the fund's revenue each year can be granted out, with the rest going to build the principal until a cap of $500 million dollars is reached. The trust fund board estimates that will happen in 2016. After that, available revenue will come from investment income.
Next time you read about a Master Plan for Recreation, perk up and consider participating in the public portions of the process. X marks the very real spot for the treasure to build the park or trail you dream of. That's worth a hearty "Aaaaargh!"
by Joan H. Young
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