The Nature of Things: Trust fund grants worth celebrating

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The holidays came early this year for the good people of Michigan, but you’ll have to put on boots and a coat because these presents are waiting for you right outside.

At its meeting Dec. 1, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board awarded more than $22 million in grants for 22 land acquisitions across the state. Among them was a proposal by Huron Pines to protect 145 acres of forestland and 4,000 feet of Lake Huron shoreline in Alabaster Township, Iosco County. All of us at Huron Pines are grateful for everyone who supported this effort and we hope you take the opportunity to explore the Lake Huron Coastal Preserve in 2022.

Also worth celebrating are three other Trust Fund grants benefiting acquisitions in the northern Lower Peninsula:

  • The Pigeon River Country State Forest gained 404 acres of public land and a mile of Pigeon River corridor with the acquisition of the Camp Pishtoning property in Otsego County. The property offers extensive wetland and forest habitat for other game and non-game species and lies at the heart of the wild elk range.

  • Traverse City added 80 acres of forestland with the permanent protection of Hickory Forest Natural Area. Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy worked with the city and township to ensure appropriate recreational access to this forest at the edge of Northern Michigan’s biggest city.

  • Petoskey added 55 acres to its Skyline Trail Recreation Area, with views of the Bear River Valley and Lake Michigan.

Across all 22 acquisitions, Michigan residents and visitors now have thousands more acres for exploring, miles of streams for fishing and trails for wandering, not to mention the benefits for fish and wildlife habitat. Happy holidays to all.

The Natural Resources Trust Fund was established in 1976 amid booming oil and gas exploration within the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The fund collects royalties from oil and gas leases on state-owned land and its founders had the foresight that trading one nonrenewable resource for another — finite fossil fuels for public land — would bring the most benefit to the people of Michigan.

The trust fund has evolved over its existence, most recently in 2020 with a voter-approved measure to lift its $500 million cap — a change which will keep surplus oil and gas revenue from spilling into the state general fund — and mandates at least 25 percent be spent on recreation development projects.

On top of this year’s acquisitions, the trust fund awarded another $23 million for development projects in communities all across the state. Those 95 projects range from public access at Michigan’s tallest waterfall in Houghton County to development of the Joe Louis Greenway, a recreational pathway linking parks and neighborhoods around Detroit. These all share a common goal: Give people more opportunities to get outdoors.

Strong investment performance this year meant the trust fund board could pay out far more funding than in a typical round.

There was a sense of delight in the room Dec. 1 as the trust fund board greatly expanded the list of proposals it was willing to fund. I watched the live stream at my desk. Although everyone was wearing masks, the sound of muffled laughter made it clear there were a lot of smiling faces there.

The next step will be for the legislature to review the board’s recommendations and appropriate funds in spring 2022.

What a gift we have in the Natural Resources Trust Fund. Thanks to the people of Michigan, and to an ever-growing list of ambitious and worthwhile proposals, it’s a gift that will keep giving for generations to come.

— Chris Engle is communications associate for Huron Pines, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Gaylord and Alpena to conserve and enhance Northern Michigan’s natural resources to ensure healthy water, protected places and vibrant communities. Huron Pines strives to improve economic, environmental, educational and recreational opportunities throughout Northern Michigan. Learn more at huronpines.org.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: The Nature of Things: Trust fund grants worth celebrating