MACKINAC COUNTY—The Detroit City Council, awash in complaints about the city's parks, should take a look at what the U.S. Forest Service is doing up north.

Most of Detroit's 392 parks and playgrounds are in a chronic state of disrepair and decay. They are typically strewn with trash and weeds, overgrown by untended vegetation and filled with cracked tennis courts, unsafe play equipment, basketball courts with no hoops and other signs of neglect.

For months, the sorry state of Belle Isle and other parks has been regaled in the news media. Mayor Dennis Archer has proposed vehicle entry fees and other good ideas for Belle Isle and other locations, yet cannot get a nod for his proposals from the Detroit City Council, which has no plans to improve the situation.

The Detroit News recently suggested an innovative solution: Contract out with neighborhood churches for park and playground maintenance. "A church/neighborhood partnership could help establish a sense of ownership," the paper opined. "The city could save money, parks would be in more capable hands and the effort wouldn't require a major capital investment."

Up north in Mackinac County, privatization of maintenance operations at four U.S. Forest Service campgrounds could provide an example for Detroit to follow. A contract for management of the four facilities—Brevort Lake, Lake Michigan Campground, Foley Creek and Carp River—was awarded in May to Recreational Resources Management of Sedona, Arizona, one of the largest public campground management organizations in the western United States.

Since June when the new program started, grounds and restroom maintenance has removed fallen trees, pulled up unsightly weeds and transformed the campgrounds into the kind of pristine, well-tended areas campers expect.