Ottawa County

Survey lets Ottawa County residents help guide future of park system

Ottawa County is asking residents to take a role in planning the future of the parks system. 

They can do that by taking the 2020 Resident Survey. The deadline was recently extended to May 15 to encourage greater participation.

The 164-acre Rosy Mound park in Grand Haven is part of the Ottawa County parks system.

Residents’ answers will be used to help with land management by identifying areas where the system can improve, explains Jason Shamblin, Ottawa County Parks director. 

Five-year plan

Survey results will be used by the County Parks and Recreation Commission in developing a five-year Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan that will be released in 2021.

“Our five-year plan is crucial to the success of our parks system,” Shamblin says. “It not only ensures that we are eligible for state grant funds, like the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund that has helped fund some of our biggest projects, it also provides a road map for park and trail development and accessibility improvements.”

The survey, taken once every five years, gives the public an opportunity to build and guide the park system. 

Gauging interest

The commission wants to gauge interest in a range of park topics, such as expanding regional trails; preserving more parkland for conservation and historical services; adding more beach parks, playgrounds, canoe/kayak launches, and land for hunting.
The Upper Macatawa Natural Area has more than 5 miles of bike trails.
With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in place since March, parks have seen a spike in use as residents have headed out to the open spaces to get activity while following social distancing rules. 

Related: How to practice safe distancing while enjoying Ottawa County parks

The survey went online in early April. The initial results show that participants are taking this survey seriously and being very balanced in their answers, says Jessica VanGinhoven, communications specialist for the parks department.

The Ottawa County park system has 40 properties; 28 of those are parks and 12 are open spaces, which are more rustic properties where hunting is generally allowed and there are fewer marked trails. 

Overall, that inventory of parkland adds up to more 7,000 acres, putting Ottawa in the midrange when it comes to county parkland in the state.

Widespread support

The park system has widespread support. In 2016, more than 72% of voters approved the renewal of the county’s dedicated parks millage. The tax — which costs the owner of a $150,000 home about $25 per year — generates $3.5 million annually. The money is being used for improving, operating, maintaining, and acquiring parks and open spaces in Ottawa County through 2027.

“That support tells us that people really care about their park spaces and they are using them, and they want them to stay top quality,” VanGinhoven says. 

The 40-question survey takes 5-10 minutes to complete, and is available to county residents in English and Spanish. 

A Park Visitor survey, open to residents and non-residents, will be conducted in early summer at several parks in Ottawa County. 

Click here to take the 2020 Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Resident Survey.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.