Government Announces $192M for Community Parks Grants

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The Department of the Interior on Friday announced that the National Park Service will distribute $192 million to local communities through the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) grant program, which enables urban communities to create new outdoor recreation spaces, reinvigorate existing parks, and form connections between people and the outdoors in economically underserved areas. In order to increase the program’s flexibility, the Department also announced new programmatic changes to the program.

Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz announced the updates while touring Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Michigan, today, which previously received a combined $1.075 million in ORLP grants to fund two projects: the recently completed Belle Isle Park Athletic Complex and a perimeter multi-use loop trail, the first phase of which was completed in April 2022.

“The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program is essential to expand our communities’ connections to urban green spaces, where children can play, families can connect, and a love and appreciation for the outdoors can be nurtured,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “The funding and programmatic changes we are announcing today will allow for us to support bigger ideas and more communities in their pursuit of creating more parks and places to get outside for every American."

Changes to program eligibility requirements include decreasing the city size cap from 50,000 to 30,000 residents; removing the requirement for cities to be in a Census-designated Urban Area boundary; and increasing the maximum grant amount from $5 million to $10 million.

The Department also announced that for this round of grant applications, one of the priorities that will be considered in reviewing proposals is the project's contributions to increasing access to nature’s benefits, such as green spaces, shady areas, and natural landscapes that help provide climate benefits, such as heat island reduction.

The ORLP program helps advance the Biden-Harris administration's America the Beautiful initiative, a locally led, voluntary conservation and restoration effort that aims to address the nature and climate crises, improve equitable access to the outdoors, and strengthen the economy. Providing safe outdoor spaces for communities that are park-deprived is one of six areas of focus.

“Access to the outdoors should be within reach of every community,” said Assistant Secretary Estenoz. “The updates we’ve made to the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program reflect the goals of the Biden-Harris administration to increase equitable access to the outdoors, while also bringing much-needed climate relief to our nation’s urban areas by creating more green spaces.”

“The Outdoor Recreation Partnership Program makes it possible for every American to form connections with nature and the outdoors,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “We want people to be able to walk to and enjoy their neighborhood park. Through a combination of public and private funds, this program serves the specific needs of communities lacking access to green spaces. Projects are locally led and collaborative, helping to advance the America the Beautiful initiative’s goals to conserve and protect public lands and waters.” 

Established in 2014, ORLP is a nationally competitive grant program funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that focuses on communities with little to no access to publicly available, close-by, outdoor recreation opportunities in urban areas. Funds may be used to acquire and/or develop land to create, or substantially renovate, public parks and other outdoor recreation spaces.

Since its inception in 1965, the LWCF has funded $5.2 billion worth of projects in over 98% of counties in the country. In 2020, Congress permanently funded the LWCF at $900 million per year with wide bipartisan support. At no cost to taxpayers, the LWCF supports increased public access to and protection for federal public lands and waters — including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas — and provides matching grants to state governments for the acquisition and development of public parks and other outdoor recreation sites.

Applications are being accepted in Grants.gov through May 31, 2023, with an early submission deadline of January 31, 2023, giving communities the chance to access these funds even sooner. Interested jurisdictions should contact their state lead agency for LWCF. Project sponsors must match the grant award 1:1 with non-federal dollars. Additional details about ORLP, contacts, and application information are available on the National Park Service’s Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program page.

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