A glance at today’s map of the Genesee County park system reveals an array of more than three dozen parks and fishing areas. But it didn’t start out that way. It began with a discussion between a news reporter and a residential planner. It began with one Flint Journal story and an artist’s rendition of what the future might hold.
A little over 50 years ago, those two individuals had a vision of creating a lake in Genesee County and providing for park land to surround the new body of water. Homer Dowdy, then a Flint Journal reporter, and residential planner Dick Tavis saw the possibility of creating a recreation lake with a dam on the Flint River. They took the idea to Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Frank Manley, and from that meeting Genesee County began to develop the largest county park system in Michigan. Credit for much of that effort goes to those far-sighted community leaders, the Mott Foundation and C.S. Mott himself.
Today’s Genesee County Parks & Recreation Commission evolved from plans to create Mott Lake. As those plans grew and included surrounding park land, a number of community leaders and organizations were inspired by the prospect of a county-wide park system and created the Genesee County Parks & Recreation Commission. The Commission pulled together a series of assorted road commission parks and city parks over half a century ago. Today, Genesee County’s park system encompasses some 11,000 acres in 25 parks and 15 designated fishing sites.
As the Genesee County Parks & Recreation Commission celebrates its 50th anniversary, Genesee County Parks Director Amy McMillan explains her success simply. “We love the parks. It’s at the core of everything that makes us successful.” She gives credit to her staff – 30 full-time employees and about 300 in the summer – and the hundreds of volunteers who give more than 18,000 hours annually and share her passion for the parks. That success has been remarkable, not only because of the number of parks in the county, but also because of the impact on the lives of those in Genesee County.
Both county residents and visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities at the parks. They can:
• Ride the Huckleberry Railroad or the Genesee Belle
• Enjoy hiking and biking on the many miles of park trails
• Learn at nature programs at For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum
• Try their equestrian skills at the Everett A. Cummings Center or the Elba Equestrian Complex
• Cool off swimming at Bluebell, Buttercup or Clover Beach
• Relax with nature while camping at the Wolverine Campground
• Learn a new sport at the Goldenrod Disc Golf Course
• Fire up their dirt bikes, dune buggies and four-wheel drives at the Mounds Off Road Vehicle Area
• Enjoy cross-country skiing, sledding and snow shoeing at many parks
• Slip through the waters boating and canoeing
• Schedule weddings and other special events at Crossroads Village, For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum or Stepping Stone Falls, among other locations
The full range of activities is much too extensive to list here. For a full description of the events and activities, visit www.geneseecountyparks.org.
The county park system not only provides unmatched recreational opportunities but also is an engine of economic growth for the area. Based on a recent study, several of the most popular attractions give the local economy a strong boost. Crossroads Village alone generated over $5.2 million in new economic growth and created the equivalent of 138 new jobs. Similarly, the Warrior Dash contributed about $1.3 million in economic impact, and the Day Out With Thomas at Crossroads Village created nearly $1 million in economic growth. Considering the effects of tourism and the local payroll, the total economic impact of the parks commission is over $18 million, which contributes to 412 jobs.
The county parks are funded through three major sources. A 0.75 mill county millage, approved in 2014, provides the largest source of funds. A second source is earned income from admission and user fees, and third are public and private grants, such as those from the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Ruth Mott Foundation and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
McMillan says that plans to celebrate the 50 years of the Genesee County park system are in progress, will cover much of the year and will likely include the whole county. As she looks forward, her main goals for the whole system are to partner with others and ensure that every part of the county is treated fairly. She also hopes the parks will continue to contribute to the growth and development of the Genesee County economy, as it has in the past, which will in turn provide stable funding for Michigan’s largest county park system.
“We love the parks. It’s at the core of everything that makes us successful.” —Amy McMillan