Michigan Spark Grant applications open Monday

It’s a milestone moment for outdoor recreation in Michigan: first-round funding of the $65 million Michigan Spark Grants program will start accepting applications Monday, Oct. 24.

The program is aimed at helping local communities that want to create, renovate or redevelop public outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors—especially those communities whose economic opportunities and health were hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Up to $15 million is available in the first round of the program, administered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Michigan Spark Grants are 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 and make it easier for people to enjoy the outdoors.

The grant opportunity is possible because of the Building Michigan Together Plan, signed in March 2022, which included a historic infusion of federal funding in our state and local parks.

“We’re excited and extremely privileged to launch a program that we know will help many deserving communities expand outdoor recreation resources and experiences for their residents,” said DNR Director Dan Eichinger. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people turned to the outdoors in record numbers for fresh air and space to stretch out. Having such opportunities close to home is critical, and that’s what Michigan Spark Grants will make possible.”

Eichinger outlined the program today during the Michigan Municipal League’s annual convention in Muskegon.

The league’s director of state and federal affairs, John LaMacchia II, said the occasion was fitting, as more than 400 local leaders from across Michigan have gathered together to learn about opportunities for investment that will improve their communities.

“Providing robust and equitable access to parks and recreation opportunities is one of the key elements to improving quality of life,” LaMacchia said. “The Michigan Spark Grants program will provide our members access to critical funding that will help them invest in durable assets that contribute to the social and economic fabric of a community.”

LaMacchia is a member of the advisory group that provided the DNR with input on the program’s intent, scoring criteria and application requirements – all to ensure the program’s stated objectives are met.

Developing the program
Andrea LaFontaine, executive director of the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, also serves on that Michigan Spark Grants advisory team.

“United by the belief that all Michiganders deserve quality outdoor recreation experiences close to home, the Michigan Spark Grants advisory team worked together to build an opportunity that maximizes resources, provides support and removes barriers to access,” LaFontaine said. “The Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance was honored to serve on this committee, and it is our hope that Spark Grants help ignite greater investment in outdoor recreation amenities throughout the state.”

Advisory team members represented diverse perspectives including private philanthropy, regional planning, parks and recreation, community foundations, local governments (rural and urban), and federal and state grant programs.

In addition to LaFontaine and LaMacchia, they include:

Kyle Caldwell, Council of Michigan Foundations.
John Egelhaaf, Region 4 Southwest Planning Commission, Michigan Association of Regions.
Dan Lord, Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Amy Matisoff, Michigan Department of Transportation.
Clay Summers, Michigan Recreation & Park Association.
J.J. Tighe, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

Program details, eligibility
Eligible Michigan Spark Grant applicants must be entities that are legally constituted to provide public recreation and can include:

Units of government or public authorities.
Federally designated tribes.
Regional or statewide organizations.
Consortiums of local units of government or public authorities.

A total of $65 million of coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery funds was made available through Public Act 53 of 2022. Individual grant amounts range from a minimum of $100,000 to a maximum of $1 million and are scheduled to be distributed in three rounds:

Round one: up to $15 million during the week of Jan. 30, 2023.
Round two: up to $25 million in spring 2023.
Round three: up to $25 million in summer 2023.
First-round grant applications must be submitted by Dec. 19, 2022.

Oct. 28 webinar
Applying for a grant can feel overwhelming. To help prospective applicants better understand program particulars – including eligibility, documentation, deadlines and more – they are invited to participate in a free informational webinar offered 10:30-11:15 a.m. Friday, Oct. 28.

It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and learn more about how to make the Michigan Spark Grant application process manageable, even with a busy schedule. Registration is required. For those who can’t join the webinar live, a recording will be shared online, when finalized.

For more information, including the program handbook, scoring criteria, FAQs, sample site plans and other resources, visit the Michigan Spark Grants webpage.