By Mike Kruzman /

The Director of the Metroparks recently delivered a presentation to the Board of Commissioners on the economic benefits they bring, with concerns about their financials coming from the Board Chair.

Amy McMillian, Director of the Huron Clinton Metroparks, last week delivered her annual report on the benefits the 13-park system brings to their supportive communities. In normal years, the parks draw 7 million visitors, but through the pandemic they have seen car counts rise 28%, which she said left them surprised and delighted. Golf is up 125% with increased use of disc golf courses reported, as well. McMillan said the Metroparks bring $90-million in direct value to the 5-county region, improve the health of residents and property values, and lower health care costs. Their tree canopies also help with pollution and stormwater drainage.

McMillan said roughly 80% of people in the region know of the Metroparks, and that Kensington is consistently the best known.

Following her presentation, Board of Commissioners Chairman Wes Nakagiri raised concerns he had about their finances, specifically their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programming. he said while no money was spent on that in 2019, it went up to $187,000 in 2020, and the projected 2021 budget is calling for roughly $481,000. Nakagiri took exception to taxpayer money going there, saying “It’s a program that different people are gonna have a different opinion on that. I am concerned on that program because, in large part, I view that as dividing our nation by race. When we have a program that points out white privilege and suggest that whites are racist in this society…systemically racist, I have a big problem with that. And to spend taxpayer dollars that should be going towards recreation on a political point of view is disturbing to me.”

During her presentation, McMillan noted that one area Livingston County benefitted from in terms of equity, was the Metroparks making an investment through the library network to provide hot spots for kids without internet access. Nakagiri was also concerned about revenue going up almost 10% in the past 5 years, but expenses rising 18%. McMillan said their fund balance has grown substantially in her three years there, and that expenses have grown because they use their unassigned fund balance as a savings account for capital projects. Several projects were said to have been delayed a few years ago due to decreased revenue but have become a possibility again in the past three.

When asked afterward about Nakagiri's criticisms, McMillan told WHMI that “Although there is much work left to do, I am very proud of the work we are doing to make the Metroparks a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization,” adding that they "work hard every day to bring the best outdoor education and recreation experiences to the residents of southeast Michigan and to be excellent stewards of the nearly 25,000 acres of natural resources entrusted to our care. We direct all of our resources to this effort and are proud of the outcomes we achieve, including securing grant dollars to leverage taxpayer dollars and providing the economic benefits to the region that are cited in the report by the Trust for Public Land.”

Additional details about the Huron-Clinton Metroparks DEI programming can be found by Clicking Here.