Michigan offers $65 million for recreation projects but has only one taker so far

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – A difficult process for local units of government to apply for grants that would increase recreational activities could be discouraging applicants. 

Hundreds of applications have been started but only one submitted for the Spark Grant program. The state has received $65 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to help communities create public recreational opportunities and renovate existing recreational facilities. 

With a fast-approaching deadline of Dec. 19, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hopes to receive more applications in the coming days. 

Applying for grants is tricky.

Hampton Charter Township in Bay County hires an engineering firm to write them, create site plans and prepare other documents. In the past, the township has applied for grants with the DNR for a kayak launch and a new playground. 

“A lot of communities don’t have the resources available to hire an engineering firm to assist them with their project, so I can see where that can be an issue,” said Terri Close, the township supervisor. 

Maybe there needs to be a grant to assist people with getting a grant, she said. 

Typically, the DNR gives grants to communities to create outdoor recreational facilities like a soccer field, an ice skating rink or a trail, said Daniel Lord, the assistant division chief for the department.

But this grant is less restrictive in what is considered outdoor recreation. In fact, the project doesn’t even have to be outdoors. 

“We’re going to allow for both indoor and outdoor recreation, ” Lord said.

Not every community is fortunate enough to be close to one of the Great Lakes where they can put a campsite, an outdoor trail or a fishing dock, he said. 

“If a community comes to us and says, ‘This is how we were negatively impacted by COVID-19 and this cricket field is our biggest need,’ we’re not going to score a cricket field any differently than we are a soccer field,” Lord said.

Applicants must create an account with the Michigan SIGMA Vendor Self Service to manage financial transactions, obtain a unique entity identifier from the federal system for award management and register with the MIGrants program to be considered for a grant. 

“I think there are a lot of these opportunities coming at them from a lot of different directions,” Lord said. “There is this massive influx of state and federal funding that could possibly be overwhelming some communities that have limited resources for writing and applying for grants.” 

Within the past year, Northville Charter Township has hired a full time grant coordinator. Before that, applying for grants was difficult for the township, said Todd Mutchler, the township manager. 

“The start point is, ‘Where in the world do you find a grant?’ If there was something that would make it a little bit easier for governments without the resources, that would be much appreciated.” 

Before the township hired a grant coordinator, the grant application process was very decentralized in the township. “We relied on each department to know what was out there and do their research, and sometimes that was challenging because we don’t have a lot of staff here,” he said. 

Northville Charter Township has started an application for a Spark grant but is still gathering materials needed for the application before the deadline, Mutchler said. 

Michigan received $22 billion from the American Rescue Act for a variety of things like education, water and sewer and infrastructure. 

The DNR has made it easier for communities to apply for a grant by not requiring organizations to match it, Lord said. The scale used to score the applications has also been adjusted to appeal to suffering communities. 

“There is no financial commitment that a local community needs to raise to get these dollars,” Lord said. “We put together a couple of different national data sets that evaluate each community.

“What we’re doing with those data sets is, based upon the project location, create a higher score for a community that is challenged economically or from a health perspective,” Lord said.

The grants will be distributed in three rounds. The first round of $15 million will be distributed during the last week of January 2023. The second and third rounds of $25 million will be distributed next spring and summer. 

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