VIDEO: Small Michigan town scores big improvements to local park with federal funds

(Courtesy/Village of Pewamo)

By Kyle Kaminski

November 1, 2023

The state Department of Natural Resources awarded $1 million in federal funds from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to help renovate Blossom Time Park in Ionia County. Local leaders said the cash will make a big difference—especially in rural communities like Pewamo.

PEWAMO—Pewamo Village President Randy Zenk worries that small towns like his often feel neglected when it comes to receiving state or federal funding to help with local community improvement projects. Pewamo is home to fewer than 500 people, and they’re sometimes overlooked compared to residents in larger cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor.

But this year, thanks to federal funding provided through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the village of Pewamo is getting a grant for almost $1 million through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to help renovate a popular local park.

“We’re a small rural community, but we are a business,” Zenk told The ‘Gander. “Just like Lansing, just like Grand Rapids, just like Detroit, we have infrastructure needs and costs. We’ve got service needs and costs that we have to provide to our residents.”


Thanks to millions of dollars in federal funding provided through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the village of Pewamo is getting a grant for almost $1 million through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to help repair and renovate a popular local park. Read more at our website through the link in our bio. #Michigander #MichiganRural #MichiganOutdoors #PureMichigan #NewsUpdate #PewamoMI #Michiganders

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Blossom Time Park is the largest park (and among the only ones) in Pewamo. Zenk said local residents and visitors routinely flock to its pavilions, three ballfields, soccer pitch, two tennis courts, volleyball court, and abundance of playground equipment—even in the colder months.

But over the years, the park has seen its fair share of use and has fallen into disrepair. The tennis courts are now crumbling. Paint is chipping off the monkey bars. The picnic tables in the pavilions need to be replaced. The gravel parking lot has clearly seen better days.

The funding awarded this month will allow the village to complete a whole host of long-sought renovations at the park—including paving the gravel parking lot, fixing up the tennis court, installing a new pickleball court and playground equipment, and fully renovating the pavilions.

“It is very important to the local residents and the communities around Pewamo,” Zenk said. “Especially with Covid and everybody being holed up in their homes, people want to get out and want to re-communicate with people and Blossom Time Park has been that avenue for folks.”

Zenk said Pewamo runs on a shoestring budget, and without the grant, the funding would’ve required the project to be done in stages over several years. Now, it’ll all be done by 2026.

“Oh, this has been a blessing,” Zenk added. “We’re a very small, rural community, and our budget purse strings are pretty tight. We still were moving forward with bits and pieces of this plan that we’ve laid out, but it would be over many, many years versus the Big Bang theory.”

Not Just Pewamo

All told, 31 outdoor recreation projects across 25 counties were awarded funding through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this month—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.

The cash flowed through Michigan Spark Grants program, which was made possible through Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Building Michigan Together Plan” and 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.

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 month:

  • 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 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 grants (of less than $900,000) to help fund outdoor recreation projects in Alpena; Branch; Cheboygan; Clinton; Isabella; Jackson; Lenawee; Macomb; Midland; Oakland; Otsego; Schoolcraft; and St. Clair counties.

Click here for a full list from the DNR, with additional information about each project.

READ MORE: Here’s How the Inflation Reduction Act has Helped Michigan

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.




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