CSUS Trails class to collaborate with Michigan Department of Natural Resources

By Amanda Sorensen, Michigan State University March 31, 2023
Family hiking through Mt. Baldy Trail in Michigan.

The students in Community Sustainability course Michigan Trails- Policy, Law, and Building (CSUS 491), will be working cooperatively with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to address real-world needs in outdoor trail recreation across Michigan starting fall 2023. As a result of this exciting agreement with MSU and the DNR, students will be working alongside Tim Novak, the State Trails Coordinator, and his staff, doing a variety of trail work including surveying trail users and researching and recommending ways to help build a stronger non-motorized trail system in Michigan.

The DNR has a rich history of working with institutions across Michigan, including MSU and MSU’s peer institution, University of Michigan, on developing trail work. The agreement with the DNR, with Bob Wilson’s rich background in trails policy and development, is one of the first opportunities to bring this type of partnership to the classroom at Michigan State. This effort builds on the significant research and trails work done by faculty in CSUS and the various iterations prior to becoming CSUS (See the interactive timeline on our alumni page for how prior units merged to become CSUS throughout the years).

Wilson, instructor of the Trail Policy and Law course, says about this exciting new agreement, “This is a great opportunity for students in my class to learn about the value of developing, enhancing, and promoting trails in Michigan. This partnership serves to develop a network of potential trail related job opportunities for students.”

The Trail Policy and Law course (CSUS 491) was originally developed a few years ago with support from long-time Michigan trails philanthropist, Mike Levine. Wilson says an expansion to this class as it was originally envisioned “expands MSU’s reach in the state and, at the same time, providing focused student-based services for the state of Michigan and the Department of Natural Resources in their nation-leading trail program.”

Wilson also highlights the opportunity for students to get real-world experiences preparing them for careers. “These students are going to live the lessons that we teach in the class. So, when we discuss route selection or reduce conflict with private landowners in the class, they will see face to face how these lessons are applied in real life.” He also notes that students often only get this type of experience in internships, which can be difficult to find or inaccessible to certain populations of students.

Career preparation for students is particularly important to Wilson. He says of his goals in teaching this course, “I try to help my students find those job opportunities where they are doing something greater than themselves. They are helping their community while also making a decent salary to support their life.”

Corey Zverina, a Sustainable Parks Recreation and Tourism major in Community Sustainability class of 2022, took the Trail Policy and Law course and reflected the most valuable part of her experience. “This class was an excellent resume builder. At the end of the semester, we had essentially created a portfolio of our knowledge in the form of a trail plan.” Zverina now works for Delta Township Parks & Recreation.

Another student of the course, Ryan Reincke, Community Sustainability student- class of 2023, said while he was not initially interested in trails, he is now pursuing a career path in trails and recreation. His recommendations for other students “who don’t really know what they want to focus on around environmental issues, trails are a really good option because you get to be outside and you learn a lot about communities and how those trails beneficially impact those communities.”

This is great advice for fellow students given what Kenny Wawsczyk, the Regional Trail Coordinator for the Michigan North Country Trail Association, sees in the broader trail management community. Wawsczyk says “The trails world is really booming right now, but I’ve never seen any of higher educational opportunities for trails specifically before this course. We know there are issues with accessibility and limitations for folks being able to get out on trails, so I could see an increase focus in hiring for people who have background in thinking about trails management specifically.”

Students who are interested in this course can contact their academic advisors to register or contact Bob Wilson at wilso363@msu.edu to learn more. Interested in the wider world of outdoor recreation? The Department of Community Sustainability offers the Sustainable Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (SPRT) major. Visit the SPRT major page to learn more or set up a personal meeting with the SPRT advisor.

This article originally appeared at: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/csus-trail-policy-and-law-class-to-collaborate-with-michigan-department-of-natural-resources