Thursday, July 13, 2006

Vision for Parks Needs to Continue

A recent issue of TIME Magazine included a package of articles about Teddy Roosevelt. Now 100 years removed from the middle of his second term as president, it is interesting to look at this man and his vision for the country as it entered a new century. One aspect of his visionary legacy that stands out is his understanding of the need for parks.

In his first term (1901-1904), TIME reports, he created five national parks and 50 bird and other animal reservations. Roosevelt, who developed a love of the outdoors after dealing with asthma as a child, wanted to ensure that all Americans in future generations could enjoy our great country’s great natural attributes as he had.

There is rarely if ever a legacy that did not begin with a vision. And so, 100 years after Roosevelt was president, I was impressed to receive a brochure about the vision for Ottawa County parks that is equated with our own legacy as the residents of this county. Titled “Our Parks…Our Families…Our Legacy”, the brochure spells out the numerous accomplishments of the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission in the past decade. It also illustrates planned initiatives for parks throughout the county in the years ahead. And, it makes the important point that it will take the vision and investment of all of us to ensure that these initiatives can come to fruition. The purpose of the brochure, distributed by the Ottawa County Parks Millage Renewal Committee, is to vote “yes” to renew the Land Legacy millage first approved in 1996.

The original concept of a park, according to various sources, is a place free of houses and other structures for the nobles to go and hunt. In our modern era, a park is better known as an area of open space for citizens to enjoy recreation. One hundred years ago, when Roosevelt proposed setting aside large tracts of federal land as parks, he had preservation of land and the access of the common man in mind. Some back then, in a vast open country, may have considered such actions unnecessary. But again, he had vision.

Here in Ottawa County in 2006, the vision is easier to grasp. As the well-monied “nobles” of our day acquire private properties on Lake Michigan and inland lakes and rivers, it is increasingly important that we ensure access to these natural resources for the common man. And even away from the water, the time to preserve open space for recreation is now. According to U.S. Census data, Ottawa County grew by 7.2% from 2000-2005, to a population of more than 255,000. To put that in perspective, we have 566 square miles in the county. In 2000, there were 421 people per square mile; now we’re up to 451 people per square mile and growing. That’s two and a half times the population density of the State of Michigan overall.

Ironically, one of the reasons people move here is because of the open space and access to recreational waters. While growth is good for the economy and brings many benefits, it is also important to plan for growth and to ensure that it is sustainable. Environmentalists, business owners, and government leaders all have the same at stake here—ensuring a quality of life that will retain employees, customers, citizens and taxpayers.

As I looked through the brochure that came in the mail, it was not just a pitch for money or an accumulation of data. I read it as a scrap book of good memories as I reviewed all the Ottawa County parks. I recalled frequent hikes at Rosy Mound, walking with county naturalists at the newly acquired North Ottawa Dunes property, biking the Musketawa Trail, kayaking the Grand and Pigeon rivers, cross-country skiing at Pigeon Creek and Hemlock Crossing parks, and anticipating all of these activities and more at the newly acquired lands planned to become parks. The vision of county leaders and citizens in the past made all of this recreation possible for me—a common man. The same is true I know for many of you.

I’m not a rich man, but I feel wealthy when I consider where I live. Every time I fly home from Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco or anywhere else, I glance down from the airplane window and delight at the site of the Lake Michigan shoreline, the dunes, the rivers and lakes, and the spreading green below. And while many other regions of the country have exciting attributes, I consider myself lucky to live here for the natural quality of life we enjoy.

And even though I am not rich, I can certainly afford $16.65—that’s the amount per year this .33 mills proposed will cost the owner of a $100,000 home. As the brochure says, that’s about the same as a fast food restaurant meal for three. It’s certainly less than the cost to fill up an SUV or a boat these days. It’s even less than the $24 for an annual state park vehicle pass. I’m going to vote “yes” to invest that amount to maintain and grow our parks, to establish our legacy. I hope you’ll do the same.