31 MI Communities To Share $22M In Grants For Outdoor Recreation

Lansing, MI - Nearly $22 million in Michigan Spark Grants will benefit 31 of the state’s communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, critical funding to pave the way for the creation, renovation and redevelopment of public recreation opportunities for residents and visitors.

This final round of Michigan Department of Natural Resources-administered Spark Grants follows the February distribution of $14.2 million in first-round grants to 21 communities. Program dollars stem from an infusion of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“It’s gratifying to know that even more Michigan communities will see tangible benefits from this unparalleled federal funding opportunity to expand outdoor recreation,” said DNR Director Scott Bowen. “Michiganders of all ages deserve the chance to discover the outdoors, enjoy new recreation experiences and relax with family and friends. These Spark Grants will help make that possible by funding a variety of public recreation projects across our state.”

Some of the funded projects in this round include:

  • $954,500 to revitalize Wilson Park in Milan, Washtenaw County, through installation of a fully accessible playscape, bathrooms, shuffleboard court and fitness court.
  • $400,000 to extend the 10-mile paved portion of the Betsie Valley Trail from Frankfort to Beulah by an additional mile through Beulah and Benzonia in Benzie County.
  • $900,000 to improve the Monroe Loop Greenway, a linear park in Monroe County, through additions of an accessible trail, fitness center, plazas and gathering spaces.
  • $495,000 to renovate Chassell Centennial Park, in Chassell Township, Houghton County, through the addition of accessible restrooms, pathways and boardwalk.

Program history, development

This grant opportunity is possible also because of the bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March 2022. That package included a historic $450 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for state and local parks.

The DNR was tasked with administering $65 million of that total; today’s announcement concludes the second and final round of direct DNR grant funding. The remaining $27.5 million will be available to support 39 underserved “opportunity communities” through the Council of Michigan Foundations. The council has partnered with the DNR to leverage funding, opportunities and technical assistance for these identified communities.

Michigan Spark Grants offer a path to reach people in communities whose economic opportunities and public health were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This reimagined approach to grantmaking activates historic support for projects that provide safe, accessible public recreation facilities and spaces to:

  • Improve people’s health.
  • Introduce new recreation experiences.
  • Build on existing park infrastructure.
  • Make it easier for people to enjoy the outdoors.

Two key ways these grants differ from the DNR’s existing recreation grant programs are that applicants could seek up to $1 million for a single project and there was no 25% match requirement.

Michigan Association of Regions partnership

Michigan Spark Grant-funded projects (whether through the DNR or the Council of Michigan Foundations) must be completed and all dollars expended by the end of 2026. To assist communities with the federal requirements and timelines – which can stretch the capacity of local units of government – the DNR has formed a partnership with the Michigan Association of Regions. MAR is the collaborative of the state’s regional planning organizations that collectively support sustainable, collaborative communities and a strong state.

That partnership aligns the DNR’s vision with the close, working relationship the planning organizations enjoy with their member communities. MAR will help them craft competitive applications and provide support throughout the Spark Grants process and, ultimately, to completion of their funded recreation projects.

“We appreciate the ideal intersection of our interest in improving the lives of people across Michigan and this incredible opportunity from the state to focus that energy toward enriching our recreation resources in communities that need it most,” said MAR Chairman Lee Adams.

This partnership will assist both the recipient communities that have received DNR-administered Spark Grants funding and the underserved communities that are selected for grants by the Council of Michigan Foundations.

“The Michigan Association of Regions builds on this partnership to provide many levels of support to these communities, offering everything from technical assistance to project management and implementation,” said Clay Summers, DNR grants manager. “This could include helping to bid out construction contracts, financial tracking and general project oversight.

“Many of these communities struggle with the alignment of resources and staff to apply for these grants and then see the projects through, and so it’s important that we work in conjunction with our partners to assist them and support them through this process, from applying for the grant right down to construction completion.”

All final DNR-administered Spark Grants recipients and project descriptions, program eligibility and other details are available on the Michigan Spark Grants webpage.

Learn more about all DNR grant opportunities at Michigan.gov/DNRGrants.

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