As the sun beams down on open fields, birds fly through a clear blue sky and people mingle and talk. An afternoon of picnicking and sports is about to begin in the Williamstown Community Park. While days like this do occur, the Williamstown Township Parks and Recreation Committee is in the process of applying for a grant so community events can happen more often.
The committee is in the process of applying for a grant through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that will help to update and improve the quality of the Williamstown Community Park.The grant would be funded through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. It is dependent on the township finalizing their state-mandated Master Plan.“This is a big deal for the committee because we have been trying to get funding for the park and this is [our] last suggestion,” said Jerry Fulcher, chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.Up until this year, the park has been a volunteer effort. The current land, which is about 140 acres, was received through grant money from the state. Improvements made over the years have been voluntary. Community members, school groups and Boy Scout troops have worked on projects for the park, which were funded with the committee’s budget money from the township. The township’s money could only go so far, however.“We have done a lot so far, but we do not have the resources to do more right now,” said Fulcher.The community park is located on the west side of the township on the banks of the Red Cedar River, three miles from downtown Wiliiamston. The park currently has a sledding hill, nature trials, a wildflower prairie, a dog walk, two soccer fields, two baseball fields with dugouts, a donated irrigation system for the fields, and a utility shed. Community members as well as Williamston youth sports teams use the park throughout the year.The Williamstown community’s response to the committee has always been positive, according to township board members.Once the committee’s five-year master plan is completed in February, the Department of Natural Resources will review and approve it. Once the plan is approved the township may apply for the grant. Their application will be submitted in March to the state for a decision.The application will be evaluated on criteria established by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board of Trustees, which include need for a project, applicant history, site quality, project quality, protection and use of significant natural resources, use of inland water resources, wildlife opportunities, access opportunities, population served by the project, financial need, oil and gas impacted areas, and special initiatives. The township must provide at least 25 percent of the project’s costs as local match. The money can be raised through fundraising, donations, the township budget and other grants, said Deborah Apostol State of Michigan Grants Unit Manager.
“What we [the grant committee] look for is that the match is secure and committed in a resolution by the local unit of government,”
The MNRTF Board of Trustees makes recommendations to the governor, which are forwarded to the Michigan Legislature for final approval and appropriation. The evaluation process runs from April 1 to early December, when the MNRTF Board makes the final recommendations. Those recommendations are then submitted to the legislature for final approval.
“This last phase can take several weeks to several months, usually the latter. Once approved by the legislature, the bill goes to the governor for signature,”
The MNRTF distributes grants that range from $15,000 to $500,000 for development projects. Approximately $25 – 30 million is available for grants each year. Grant awards are dependent on the appropriations process, but project agreements are normally distributed within 12 to 18 months after the application is received.
Wanda Bloomquist, the Planning Commission assistant, said the two township groups are working together to get the plan and application ready and finalized.
According to Bloomquist the amount they will receive from the grant is unknown as well as what the committee plans on doing with the money. Although the proposal is not finalized there has been talk of building a pavilion, conducting a prairie burn on the open land to restore the soils nutrients, and possibly acquiring more property.
As of January 2006, the MNRTF has given $600 million in grants to more than 1,200 state and local recreation projects. Assisted projects provide for natural resource protection and the sites must be dedicated to public outdoor recreation.
With the township’s efforts, the community’s support and help from the state, the park may entice even more township residents out on a sunny afternoon.