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Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve officially dedicated

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission officially dedicated Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve as Michigan’s 103rd state park at a ribbon-cutting event this morning. Watkins Lake is the first state park in Michigan to be jointly managed with a county recreation agency.

More than 100 people attended the ribbon-cutting celebration that took place at the park near Watkins Lake. The event included remarks by Scott Pratt, DNR chief of Southern Michigan Field Operations; Marc Miller, DNR deputy director; Ron Olson, James O’Brien, park manager; DNR Parks and Recreation chief; Robert Marans, Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission president; Eric Johnson, Norvell Township supervisor; and Gene DeRossett, Manchester Township supervisor.

“The DNR is excited to ceremonially cut the ribbon and officially welcome visitors to Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve,” said Olson. “We hope that this new park, which is located in southern Michigan and just miles from Hayes State Park, Pinckney Recreation Area and Waterloo Recreation Area, will become a popular destination for wildlife and waterfowl viewing, as well as outdoor- and history-based recreation.”

The property is a popular watchable-wildlife destination and features beautiful rolling land covered in a mixture of open meadow, mixed hardwoods, low wetland areas, open water and the property’s most popular feature, Watkins Lake. The park also has historical value because Royal and Sally Carpenter Watkins, who first farmed the land, played a key role in the Underground Railroad.

On June 16, 2016, the DNR purchased 717 acres of land in Norvell Township, Jackson County, for $2.9 million. Combined with 405 acres of contiguous land owned by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission in Manchester Township, the 1,122-acre property was jointly created.

Funding for the $2.9 million DNR purchase came from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was created with revenue from the development of state-owned minerals, primarily oil and gas, and is used to help acquire and develop public recreation lands.

The park is slated to offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities, such as hiking, bird watching, upland hunting and mountain biking. The property also includes a 4.5-mile former rail corridor that traverses the property from east to west. The trail will link state and county parcels and has the potential to be developed into a nonmotorized, multiuse trail, well-suited for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. There also is the strong possibility of expanding the trail to connect the villages of Manchester and Brooklyn.

The park now is open to the public, but with limited parking. The DNR and Washtenaw County will create multiple public access points once a formal management plan to guide the development of the park is in place, following a series of yet-to-be-scheduled public input meetings.

For more information on this park, contact James O’Brien, park manager, at 517-467-7401 or obrienj4@michigan.gov.