Dozens of Michigan communities that were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic were awarded nearly $22 million in federally funded state grants to help create new public recreation opportunities for both residents and visitors, state officials announced. Ultimately, the funding invites more people to explore the great outdoors, which likely will give a boost to RV and boat sales, all leading to a growing need for the development of RV and boat storage facilities.
All told, 31 outdoor recreation projects across 25 counties were awarded funding through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in October 2023—including for various improvements to biking and hiking trails, renovations at city and township parks, and the creation of new green spaces to help make it easier for Michiganders to enjoy the outdoors.
“It’s gratifying to know that even more Michigan communities will see tangible benefits from this unparalleled federal funding opportunity,” DNR Director Scott Bowen said in a statement. “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.”
The Michigan Spark Grants program was made possible through Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Building Michigan Together Plan,” which included a record-setting $450 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to improve state and local parks.
The DNR was tasked with spending about $65 million of that larger figure—much of which was already distributed this summer to support a wide range of improvements at several state parks. This recent funding concludes the second and final round of direct DNR grant funding. The DNR directed the remaining $27.5 million to the Council of Michigan Foundations, which will award the funds to “opportunity communities.”
The projects are designed to provide safe, accessible, public recreation facilities and spaces to improve Michiganders’ health, introduce new recreation experiences, build on existing park infrastructure, and ultimately make the great outdoors even greater, according to the DNR.
Among the biggest-ticket items that were picked to receive funding this week:
- The Grass River Natural Area in Antrim County and Helmer Park in Missaukee County were each selected to receive $1 million grants for trail and boardwalk improvements.
- The village of Pewamo in Ionia County received $999,000 to fix up Blossom Time Park.
- The Grand Traverse County Civic Center got $999,000 to fix up its walking track.
- Marquette County received $998,000 for a new park by the Sawyer International Airport, and the city of Marquette got about $459,000 to create a new trailhead.
- The village of Nashville in Barry County received $995,000 to improve Putnam Park.
- The Lake Callis Recreation Complex in Genesee County received $970,000.
- Washtenaw County received a $954,000 grant to install a new playscape and bathrooms, as well as a shuffleboard and fitness court at Wilson Park in Milan.
- Berrien County received $909,000 for a new community park in Niles Township.
- The Monroe Loop Greenway, a linear park in Monroe County, received a $900,000 grant for a new trail, fitness center, outdoor plaza, and additional gathering spaces.
- A $400,000 grant will allow for a one-mile extension to the paved portion of the Betsie Valley Trail, enabling the path to stretch through Beulah and Benzonia in Benzie County.
- Another $495,000 will help renovate Chassell Centennial Park in Houghton County.
Dozens of other communities also received state grants (of less than $900,000) to help fund various outdoor recreation improvements in Alpena; Branch; Cheboygan; Clinton; Isabella; Jackson; Lenawee; Macomb; Midland; Oakland; Otsego; Schoolcraft; and St. Clair counties.
State officials said the Michigan Association of Regions will work with grant recipients to ensure the projects are successful—and that they’re all fully completed before the end of 2026.
Click here for a full list from the DNR, with additional information about each project.