The Saginaw County Parks System owns six park facilities throughout the region, with a seventh currently being developed, that spans over 850 acres of protected park land, 25+ miles of rail trails, and last year featured 195 recreational & educational programs with over 20,000 visitors.
Consisting of Price Nature Center (6685 Sheridan Rd), Immerman Memorial Park (3495 Midland Rd); William Haithco Recreation Area (21121 Schust Rd); Ringwood Forest (M-52 on Ring Rd); and Veterans Memorial Park (M-13 between Saginaw & Bay City), on March 10th the Parks system will be asking for a .2942 Millage Renewal rate, which is estimated to cost the owner of a $100,000 home approximately $14.71 annually.
Currently, revenue for the parks system is generated by a six-year millage that is set to expire, and according to Parks Director Brian Lechel, voter approval of this renewal will help protect and advance the mission of the Saginaw County Parks system for another six years.
According to Lechel, the Parks system currently has six full-time staff members and employs 30 to 35 seasonal staff members consisting of program coordinators and park supervisors that are most college age, along with some retirees and teachers that have summers off and come to work with the park system.
Lechel says the millage rate generates $1.4 million annually and that 50% of this goes to cover salaries for the six fulltime and 35 seasonal staff members, with 25% going into park and trail maintenance, and 15% dedicated to programming, noting how “some segments of the Saginaw Rail Trail are 20 years old now so can definitely benefit from some capital improvements.”
When the last millage was placed on the ballot in 2014, Lechel says it requested an increase in order to focus upon expanding program operations throughout the parks system, so the request this year is simply for a renewal of that 2014 level.
“Most of the park developments were built between 1979 and 1990,” explains Lechel, “and at that time the City of Saginaw had a full time park and recreational staff, maintaining ball diamonds and sports leagues. People often ask why the Parks System doesn’t have a facility within the city, but at that time the County felt doing that would be a duplication of services - however, when the City of Saginaw cut their Parks & Recreational staffing, the importance of what we provide to the quality of life throughout the region becomes more apparent.”
“One of our commitments with the 2014 millage increase was to no longer charge gate fees at any of our parks,” he continues. “Now when people come to our parks for the first time in any given season they are given a colored sticker so we can count the numbers of visitors and identify where they are visiting from. Residents of the city are our biggest user group, followed by the Township.”
In terms of programming, Lechel says that in 2019 there were 185 programs hosted by or in Saginaw County Parks, totaling 20,000-plus users. “Two of our full-time staff personnel do not have offices because they are constantly out on the field maintaining the parks system and trails. Three years ago we also piloted various mobile recreational programs that have been very successful. We’ll take the mobile unit out about 40 times between the months of June and August, focusing upon our city & county facilities, but also visiting St. Charles and Chesaning.”
“Last summer we had over 100 people at Fordney Park on a Thursday afternoon because of this, so have seen attendance increase significantly; and we just conducted a Birds of Prey program at the Public Libraries that allowed 200 kids at each of these programs to learn about wildlife recovery, bringing injured birds in for the kids to interact with.”
Recently, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail that physically connects Saginaw and Bay City at Kochville and Melbourne roads was completed and the Parks System has also received a grant to construct a south end trail head.
The newest facility the Parks System is working on developing is on West Center Street where the former Saginaw Malleable Iron factory was once located; and will begin on Wickes Park Drive going south down under the halfway point bridge across the river over to Tittabawassee.
When asked what the biggest challenge is for the Saginaw County Parks system over the next 10 years, Lechel references aging infrastructure.
“We need to stay on top of that, especially as we see increases in attendance and use and find the parks significantly busier. Staffing costs continue to rise, but overall our Parks System is in a very healthy place,” he notes.
“This is why the milliage renewal is extremely important to our operation. If we had to fund an operation of this size without millage funding, it would flip the model on its head and gate feels would need to be re-instated and significantly increased.”