Placement of Regional Parks: A Case Study


  • David C. Moilanen


placement of parks, regional parks, Metroparks, marketing, land use planning, equitable distribution of parks, Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority.


Location of parks is a critical factor in the marketing and use of any park system. This paper is a case study on the history of park location decisions and the changes in park placement policies over time of a five county regional park system from the agency’s inception to its maturity.The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority (HCMA) is a special park district covering five counties in southeast Michigan. Detroit is the large central city of this metropolitan area that has a population of about 4.6 million residents. Founded in 1942, the HCMA has grown to 13 Metroparks encompassing a total of 24,000 acres. The system’s visitation averages 9-9.5 million people annually. The idea for a regional park authority was born in the late 1930s out of the region’s desperate need for outdoor recreational areas. While it may have seemed at the time that a park anywhere in the region would be better than nothing, the creators of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks thought that the best general locations for regional parks were along the area’s two primary rivers, the Huron and Clinton, that formed a “U” around the metropolitan area. Relying on surveys that correlated various types of information such as topography, the region’s demographics and road systems, as well as some regional recreational planning principles developed by the National Park Service, specific areas along the two rivers were identified that would be suitable for large (more than 1,000 acres) regional parks. In this first phase of the HCMA’s development, park sites were selected that were within 50 miles of the region’s core city, had variable topography, were of marginal economic value for other purposes (so lands were less expensive), had water resources on site or adjacent to the site, and were located close to existing or planned major highways.A second phase of planning for and identifying park locations occurred in the early 1960s. In this phase, the HCMA contracted with the Detroit Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Commission to develop a land purchasing plan that would carry the Authority into the 1980s. Extensive information gathering was done as a foundation for this long-term plan. In addition to gathering much of the same types of information gathered in the HCMA’s first phase of development, user and non-user surveys were conducted to better identify the recreational needs of the region. To better respond to these needs, the five counties were divided into four natural resource regions based on physical and topographic characteristics, and the five counties were divided into three sub-sectors based on recreational needs of the residents and roadways.While the locations of the Metroparks were carefully thought out and were used extensively by the district’s residents, an important lynchpin in the process was that all of the parks were accessible by automobile. However, in some areas of the region, particularly in Detroit, a significant portion of the residents did not have access to an automobile, or even if they did, were unwilling to drive up to 50 miles or an hour to use a regional park. This created political issues on the equitable distribution of parks that the HCMA has had to deal with and will continue to try to resolve as it looks to the future.