Michigan affords $65 million for recreation initiatives however has just one taker to date

0
11

By JANELLE JAMES
capital news service

LANSING – A difficult process for local government entities to apply for grants that would increase recreational activities could discourage applicants.

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

With the December 19 deadline fast approaching, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hoping to receive more applications in the coming days.

Applying for scholarships is tricky.

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

“Many communities don’t have the resources to hire an engineering firm to help with their project, so I can see where that can be a problem,” said Terri Close, the community leader.

Maybe there needs to be a grant to help people get a grant, she said.

Typically, the DNR gives grants to communities to create outdoor recreational facilities like a soccer field, ice rink or hiking trail, said Daniel Lord, the department’s deputy chief.

However, this grant is less restrictive on what counts as outdoor recreation. In fact, the project doesn’t even have to take place outdoors.

“We will allow for both indoor and outdoor recreation,” Lord said.

Not every community is lucky enough to be near one of the Great Lakes where they can set up a campground, outdoor trail or fishing dock, he said.

“If a community comes to us and says, ‘This is how we’ve been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and this cricket pitch is our greatest need,’ we’re not going to score any differently on a cricket pitch than on a football pitch,” Herr said.

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

“I think a lot of those opportunities are coming at them from a lot of different directions,” Lord said. “There’s this massive influx of state and federal funds that could potentially overwhelm some communities that have limited resources to write and apply for grants.”

Last year, Northville Charter Township hired a full-time grants coordinator. Before that, applying for community grants was difficult, said Todd Mutchler, the community manager.

“The starting point is, ‘Where on earth do you find a scholarship?’ If there was anything that would make it a little easier for governments without the resources, that would be greatly appreciated.”

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

Northville Charter Township has applied for a Spark grant but is still collecting the 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 sanitation, 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 rate applications has also been adjusted to appeal to suffering communities.

“There is no financial commitment that a local community has to make to receive these dollars,” Lord said. “We put together a few different national datasets that rank each community.

“What we’re doing with these datasets is creating a higher score for a community that’s economically or health-challenged, based on project location,” Lord said.

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