Small park illustrates big impact of Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund

Dimondale's Danford Island Park.

June 19, 2014

Residents attending next weekend's dedication of Danford Island Park in the village of Dimondale will get a firsthand look at the community good that comes from Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars.

Not to mention the fun and food.

"We'll have music, hot dogs, geocaching and storytelling, and we're placing some historical signage to let people know a little bit about the areas," said Denise Parisian, village manager. "This will kick off a serious start to fundraising for the next phase of development. Our complete concept includes a pavilion, bandstand and restrooms, so the park will be appropriate for weddings.

"The community is completely enamored and happy with everything - beyond thrilled."

That wasn't always the case.

A Natural Resources Trust Fund grant helped build a rain garden at Dimondale's Danford Island Park.The story of Danford Island Park begins with an old mill dam on the Grand River, owned by the Lansing Board of Water and Light. The dam was obsolete, said Chris Freiburger, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist who works on river restoration issues.

"The dam had a huge crack in it, had failed and was continuing to fail," Freiburger said.

Thanks in part to a DNR Inland Fisheries Grant, the dam was removed and an unusual W-shaped structure was built with boulders in the river - the first of its kind in Michigan, Freiburger said - making it easier for sediment to move and fish to pass through.

"It was a pioneering way to use natural design for river restoration," Freiburger said. "There's a deep hole there and good rock habitat for fish to concentrate around. Things look real good from a fisheries standpoint."

In 2004, the village of Dimondale took ownership of the property associated with the dam, before the dam was removed in 2006. After the river restoration, the Eaton County village began putting together its vision for the park.

"When we took on the property from the Board of Water and Light, we made a commitment to the community that we would work to secure grants and donations, not increase taxes," said Parisian. "We've exceeded our expectations, but the trust fund grant was absolutely key and critical. It allowed us to develop the property."

A handicapped-accessible kayak/boat launch is a new addition at Dimondale's Danford Island Park.Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants require that applicants provide a minimum 25-percent match. Because the grant process is competitive, the village submitted a bid with a match of $50,000 for the $170,000 grant. George Danford, Jr. - for whom the park is named - donated the money for the match.

Work on the project began in the fall of 2013. One of the main elements - a handicapped-accessible canoe/kayak launch - was installed this spring.

"We'd worked for several years on design and development and by the time we sent it out for bids, they came in higher than what we had funding for," Parisian said. "But what was ultimately built was perfect for the site.

"It's just right, really lovely," she said. "We have a series of rain gardens that are doing quite a job of managing the surface drainage. There are just a lot of benefits to the community from this park."

A cement crew works on a handicapped-accessible path at Dimondale's Danford Island Park.Parisian said it's rewarding to see this neighborhood park getting a lot of use - people in and out of the water with canoes and kayaks, fishing and using the structures.

"You almost never drive by that you don't see someone standing on the pier, just enjoying being over the water," she said. "I know just from talking to the locals that the fishing is very good."

Providing this type of community-centered outdoor recreation opportunity is exactly what the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund was intended to do.

The trust fund officially marks its 38th birthday this year, but after nearly four decades of funding public outdoor recreation projects in every county throughout the state, it seems clear that it's the people of Michigan who get the best gifts - like Danford Island Park - out of the deal.

Conceived in 1976 as Public Act 204 of 1976 (the Kammer Recreational Trust Act of 1976), the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grew out of the controversy surrounding the development of oil and gas resources in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The law directed royalties from the sale and lease of state-owned mineral rights into a fund that would ensure all generations of Michigan residents would benefit from the development of non-renewable natural resources.

In 1984, Michigan residents voted in favor of amending the state constitution to protect and expand the trust fund.

Subsequent legislation (P.A. 101 of 1985) stipulated that, in any fiscal year, up to a third of all mineral lease revenue - as well as the interest and earnings from the trust fund - could be used to purchase land for natural resource protection and development of recreational facilities.

Steve DeBrabander, who oversees DNR grants management, said the law specified that not less than 25 percent of the expenditures would be earmarked for acquisition and land rights, while not more than 25 percent would be used for development of recreational facilities.

"In 1994, voters reiterated their support for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund by amending a previous provision that had allowed diversion of some of the funds to the state's strategic fund," DeBrabander said. "Instead, they voted to create the State Parks Endowment Fund, which supports operation, maintenance and capital improvements at Michigan's beautiful state parks."

No matter how the underlying structure has changed over the years, one thing is clear.

"Since the creation of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, every county in the state has benefited - through better, broader access to quality outdoor recreation opportunities - from these vital dollars," said DeBrabander.

Danford Island Park, which will be dedicated in Dimondale Saturday, June 28, from noon to 3 p.m., is just one illustration of the significance of these grants.

"We cannot thank the trust fund enough," Parisian said. "It's not overstating what a wonderful benefit this has been to our little community.

"It's such a small footprint, but it's such a big deal."

Learn more about the June 28 dedication at www.villageofdimondale.org. For more on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, visit www.michigan.gov/mnrtf.