Genesee County Parks this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Now, that may or may not strike you as a big deal. But it does for me.
Here’s why: Encompassing more than 11,000 acres of outdoor recreation, educational programs, living history and breath-taking natural beauty, our county parks system is an integral component to enhancing and maintaining our overall quality of life in Flint & Genesee.
The largest in Michigan, the county park system got its start, in part, from early supporters at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation who first proposed the idea of creating a magnificent public recreational area by damming the Flint River at Carpenter Road. That would lead to the creation of Mott Lake and eventually Crossroads Village, the Huckleberry Railroad and many other terrific affiliated amenities.
In all, the county park system – under the leadership of Director Amy McMillan and the stewardship of the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission – oversees 24 parks and an additional 15 fishing sites. It also maintains parts of the Flint River Trail system and the surrounding park areas.
Not surprisingly, the biggest users of the county park system are area residents. But our well-maintained parks and other recreational amenities are also selling points when businesses are looking for communities in which to locate new facilities or expand existing operations.
Recently, we have had several great announcements about significant new investments in Flint & Genesee, including Lear Corp., Laird and CNXMotion, to name a few. And while an attractive county park system alone usually doesn’t make or break an investment decision, it serves as another reason why a company should choose us.
And then there’s the direct economic impact of the parks system, which is significant.
In a recent study prepared by PROS Consulting, Genesee County Parks in 2015-2016 fiscal year had an economic impact of nearly $19 million and accounted for 412 jobs. The numbers include the dollars generated by tourism as well as commission operations.
The analysis focused on the economic impact from programming at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad as well as the popular Michigan Warrior Dash. Those activities generated $7.6 million and 204 jobs. Meanwhile, in-county payroll, local direct expenditures, and volunteer programs added another $11.2 million and 208 jobs to the economy of Flint & Genesee.
There’s another way to gauge the impact. In terms of employment alone, the 412 jobs – if housed under one entity – would the make the county parks system one of the top 10 employers in our area.
Genesee County Parks is a tremendous resource for this region, and I salute the foresight of the community stakeholders a half-century ago to invest in a recreational system that continues to pay dividends today and into the future.
And for me, that’s a big deal.
Elizabeth Murphy is COO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.