The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has announced the creation of Michigan's 103rd state park. The park is 1,122 acres and will become the first state park to be co-managed with a county.

The $2.9 million purchase of 717 acres of land in Norvell Township, Jackson County. Combined with 405 acres of contiguous land owned by the Washtenaw County Parks and the Recreation Commission in Manchester Township, will become the 1,122-acre Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve.

The park’s planned recreational offerings include hiking, bird watching, upland hunting, mountain biking and other activities.

“It is very rare that there's an opportunity to increase the public land portfolio in southern Michigan,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “The DNR places a priority on providing additional opportunities for outdoor and history-based recreation and protecting valuable natural resources and wildlife habitat, especially in this part of the state. We believe that Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve will be popular with outdoor enthusiasts and an excellent waterfowl refuge and birding destination.”

The park is now open to the public but with limited parking. The DNR and Washtenaw County will create multiple public access points this summer and fall.

The property features rolling land covered with a mix of open meadow, mixed hardwoods, low wetland areas and open water. Watkins Lake holds large numbers of waterfowl during the spring and fall migration.

“It is one of the best inland lakes to observe canvasback ducks. Pending the adoption of a management plan, Watkins Lake will become a seasonal waterfowl refuge,” said Olson. “The remainder of the park has diverse habitat that attracts white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, cottontail rabbits and songbirds.”

The property includes a 4.5-mile former rail corridor that runs east to west. The trail will link state and county parcels and has the potential to be developed into a non-motorized multi-use 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.

Royal and Sally Carpenter Watkins, who first farmed the land, played a key role in the Underground Railroad.

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

A grant from the Enbridge Mitigation Fund helped with Washtenaw County’s acquisition. In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Enbridge Mitigation Fund provides technical assistance and funding for mitigation of impacts caused by the construction and maintenance of the Enbridge 6B Pipeline.

According to Olson, both parcels of property were purchased from G.T. Ranch, LLC, and the Legacy Land Conservancy played an important role in the coordination of the land purchase.