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Natural Resources Trust Fund board OKs $3 million for land

by David Fleet

December 04, 2013

Groveland Twp.- Additional state land in the township moved one step closer to reality on Wednesday.

Funding for the purchase of 291 acres of the township's Camp Tamarack was approved by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board in a meeting at Lansing Community College. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board oversees the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund (MNRTF). The MNRTF has been in place since 1976. It provides financial assistance to local governments and the Department of Natural Resources to purchase land or rights in land for public recreation or protection of land because of its environmental importance or its scenic beauty.

The cost of the property, which if approved by the legislator and signed by the governor will become part of the Holly Recreation Area, is valued at about $3 million. However, state officials say the process of obtaining the new public land could take up to a year to complete following appraisals and enviromental investigations.

According to the State of Michigan, the MNRTF is about $500 million. The interest, currently at about $8 million on that trust fund, finances state land purchases like Camp Tamarack and recreational improvements as diverse as public pool renovations and installing handicap accessible restrooms at state parks. The money comes from oil, gas and mineral royalties on state-owned land.

State Representative Joe Graves (R-Linden) testified at the meeting in support of the purchase.

"I am extremely happy that the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board recommended to provide this grant money to acquire the land in Groveland Township," he said. "I was proud to be able to voice my support for this grant to the Trust Fund Board and I will continue to support this proposal as it makes its way before the legislature. This is a great opportunity for residents of the 51st District and will provide new opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts, hunters and others to appreciate Pure Michigan right here in Holly."

Named for Tamarack Hills Farms and purchased in 1950 by the United Jewish Charities, Camp Tamarack incorporates more than 1,400 acres of township wilderness near Perryville Road and attracts more than 15,000 visitors each year.

Discussion of the property sale in the township camp, which turned 60-years-old last year, began earlier this year. Representatives of the United Jewish Foundation and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources convened during the township board of trustees meeting in February to discuss selling 291 acres of the camp.

"Part of the reason the (Grange Hall Road) property was purchased was to create a buffer near the camp," said Steve Engel, Fresh Air Society-Tamarack Camps executive director who attended the township meeting in February. "In offering the property to the state it will remain unchanged and natural. The funds will be used to improve the infrastructure of the camp."

Jennifer Olson, of the DNR public land matters biologist field resources management section, said funding for the sale from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to provide a source of money for the public acquisition of lands for resource protection and public outdoor recreation.

"The state requires local support for the purchase," said Olson. "The property must be maintained for public outdoor recreation to receive the funding. There must be an ecological value to the community, too. The only possible changes are for the addition of a small parking lot just off Grange Hall Road so visitors can have easier access."

Olson did not comment on if the mineral rights were going to be sold along with the property or remain with the United Jewish Foundation.

"Understand the concern on the mineral rights," said Bob DePalma, township supervisor.

"We have no public water in the township, all residents utilize private wells. About a quarter of the township is state-owned and a company purchased the mineral rights for just about every acre. Any drilling that may cause contamination of ground water would be a catastrophe."

"However, we are comfortable with the DNR purchase and it should fit right in with the other state lands we have in the township. It should be a nice addition to the outdoor activities that are abundant in the area."

Since the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund's inception in 1976, it has contributed more than $919.1 million in grants many of which funded the over 1,250 projects for state and local recreation projects, according to the state's most recent report.

Camp Tamarack includes two programs—outdoor education open to the public for community groups, for school age groups and families, all designed for kindergarteners through the corporate level. Then for 10 weeks between mid-June and mid-August the camp is closed for regular summer camp.