Skip to main content

DNR Spark Grant Program Background


CMF, in collaboration with the Governor's Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL) and through our Statewide Equity Fund (SEF), is working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on a unique opportunity to equitably guide resources to expand access to healthy indoor and outdoor recreation programs for traditionally marginalized communities.​

As of April 2023, CMF – as fiduciary and administrator of the grants – entered into a formal partnership with the DNR to equitably distribute a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in the DNR’s Michigan Spark Grants program.

Administered by the DNR, Michigan Spark Grants will support 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 both indoor and outdoor recreation. The ultimate goal of this program is to improve healthy spaces in communities currently experiencing significant levels of health, social and economic disparities and with little or no previous parks and recreation investment through increased public and local/regional private sector support and technical assistance.

To create this new grantmaking model, the DNR sought advice and perspective from an advisory group composed of philanthropy, regional government planning, parks and recreation, and other grant making entities with relevant expertise. What emerged was the framework for a grant program with a more equity-focused application and evaluation process, a new approach that gives funding priority to “opportunity communities” – areas that lack public recreation spaces and have a high proportion of households that are struggling financially and a high number of residents with physical and mental health disparities.

The partnership is aimed at removing barriers facing these nearly 40 opportunity communities in not only accessing funding, but also the needed support services for expanding a community’s capacity to successfully manage and implement recreation projects.

“We were very encouraged by the willingness of the DNR to do something different to further broaden access to recreational opportunities,” said J.J. Tighe, director of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Parks & Trails Initiative, and a member of the Michigan Spark Grants advisory group. “We had to find creative solutions that didn’t just create a new grant program, but could instead leverage the locally based resources of community foundations to provide grantees with additional support, remove barriers and create the conditions for each community to have long-term success.”

Recognizing that CMF – representing Michigan’s united, diverse philanthropic community, and an original member of the Michigan Spark Grants advisory group – has the structure and network in place through its members to engage and support the opportunity communities, the DNR forged a groundbreaking partnership with CMF to align $27.5 million in Michigan Spark Grant funds (the balance of the program’s original $65 million allocation) through CMF member foundations to support communities in developing and implementing their local public recreation projects. 

Through CMF member community foundations, CMF invited opportunity communities to participate in an intent-to-apply process.

Questions? Please contact Regina Bell, Chief Policy Officer at CMF.

“Through this innovative partnership with the DNR, Michigan philanthropy will help to ensure community voice is centered in this work to advance equitable and transformative change for opportunity communities across the state. We look forward to supporting our foundation members as we collectively work to expand access to recreation spaces and programs for communities that have been historically under-represented and under-resourced.” 

-Kyle Caldwell, CMF president and CEO