DNR News: Spark Grants, White Pine Trail, Academy of Natural Resources and more

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News Digest - Week of May 1, 2023

Overwintered milkweed pods shine in the springtime sun, balls of floss and seeds swaying in the wind.

Help improve habitat and ecosystems on public lands with upcoming stewardship events.

Here are just a few of this week's stories from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources: 

See other news releases, Showcasing the DNR stories, photos and other resources at Michigan.gov/DNRPressRoom.

PHOTO FOLDER: Larger, higher-res versions of the images used below, and others, are available in this folder.

Photo ambassador snapshot: Rifle River respite

Two kayaks set to dry onshore of a placid riverside.

Want to see more pictures like this, taken by Michigan state parks photo ambassador Chris Pagan at Rifle River Recreation Area in Ogemaw County? Visit Instagram.com/MiStateParks to explore photos and learn more about the photo ambassadors! For more on the photo ambassador program, email Stephanie Yancer.

Apply now for nearly $23 million in Spark Grants

A group of adults play basketball on a newly constructed court as a gentle summer sun shines down on them.

Communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic that are looking to enhance public recreation opportunities and facilities for residents are invited to apply for Michigan Spark Grants. The DNR is accepting applications now through June 26, with grants between $100,000 and $1 million available.

Given the strong interest in first-round funding earlier this year, the DNR expects similar or better response this round and will do everything possible to assist communities with the application process.

In announcing the opportunity earlier this month, Dan Lord, assistant chief of the DNR’s Finance and Operations Division, said the department accepted over 460 applications requesting more than $280 million in Round 1. “It was clear we tapped into a tremendous need,” Lord said. “We also knew there was more work to do in supporting some communities and ensuring they have the capacity and resources to prepare, apply for and administer a grant like this.”

The DNR also introduced an additional pathway to $27.5 million in Spark Grant funding through a new partnership with the Council of Michigan Foundations and its member network. This option is available to nearly 40 areas the DNR has identified as “opportunity communities” – those that traditionally have been under-resourced and under-represented and that lack access to parks and recreation.

Nearly $23 million is available through DNR-administered Spark Grants; applications are due June 26. More information about grants through CMF will be available this summer. Find more details on the DNR Spark Grants webpage.

Questions? Email DNR-Grants@Michigan.gov.

What does the White Pine Trail mean to you?

An old trail sign, reading 252, stands lone sentry alonside a forest trail.

Is the White Pine Trail part of your outdoor story? Share your experience with the DNR and join in a community project to enhance the White Pine Trail with signs that share the area's history. Attend one of three public meetings to learn more and find out how you can get involved.

Attendees may share heritage stories from along the trail corridor and help identify important ones to include on the signs. Refreshments will be provided. All meetings run 7 to 8:30 p.m.

  • May 9 – Cadillac:
    • Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center, 6087 E. M-115, Cadillac, MI 49601. Adjacent to Mitchell State Park – separate entrance.
  • May 10 – Plainfield Township:
    • Plainfield Township Hall, 6161 Belmont Ave. NE, Belmont, MI 49306.
  • May 11 – Big Rapids:
    • Mecosta County Services Building, 14485 Northland Drive, Big Rapids, MI 49307. Enter at Door 3 on north side of building.

If you can’t make it to this event but would like to offer ideas, please email Dan Spegel at SpegelD@Michigan.gov.

DNR summer teachers academy returns to full flourish

A group of people stand in a circle listening to a facilitator talk about birds.

The Academy of Natural Resources is one of the best professional development programs in the state for teachers wanting to experience a science-based, hands-on, high-quality and engaging week of residential training.

Among Michigan’s most popular professional development programs, ANR welcomes both formal and informal educators. In fact, 98% of last year’s 65 participants said they would highly recommend ANR to another teacher. And a research study, which gauged long-term impact, overwhelmingly supported ANR as effective long after participation.

This year, the Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support – run by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy – returns to the ANR programming schedule for the first time since 2017. MEECS brings its full complement of activities and materials, recently updated to align with Michigan’s Next Generation Science Standards, to the academy for MEECS Week July 9-14.                      

“Several of our most popular MEECS units have undergone major revisions to promote three-dimensional learning that aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards,” said Eileen Boekestein, EGLE environmental education coordinator. “We’re thrilled to debut brand-new water quality, ecosystems and biodiversity, and climate change units at this year’s ANR, and we’re excited for MEECS Week participants to be among the first in the state to access to these excellent resources.”

Units on water quality, biodiversity, ecosystems, energy, air quality, land use and climate change have been developed and updated over the years. Individual workshops on these focus areas are offered statewide, but it is only at the Academy of Natural Resources where you can receive training in all units at one place at one time.

ANR “headmaster” Kevin Frailey added, “I’m excited to have MEECS return. We have offered eight different environmental or outdoor education  courses since 2008 at the RAM Center and three in the U.P. With all the interest in ANR, we rotate courses in and out. MEECS hasn’t been on our slate since 2017, so we look forward to this unique opportunity.”

The ANR Classic program at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center in Roscommon offers two more sessions: Forests, Fields and Fins and Teachers Into the Wild, both of which are nearly closed to enrollment. ANR North, held at Michigan Tech’s Ford Center west of Marquette, is debuting a brand-new course in 2023: Forest Frenzy.

Find information on scholarships and registration at Michigan.gov/ANR.

Questions? Contact Kevin Frailey at 517-231-9046.

Help improve ecosystems, wildlife habitat on public lands around the state

A group of kids run excitedly down a dirt forest path.

Each month, there are a variety of opportunities to help the DNR take care of Michigan’s natural and cultural resources. Here are a few ways to get involved this May.

State park volunteer stewardship workdays

Several state parks in southern Michigan will host stewardship workdays, where volunteers are needed to help remove invasive plants that threaten high-quality ecosystems. 

Workdays will take place at:

  • Highland Recreation Area (Oakland County), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6.
  • Warren Dunes State Park (Berrien County), 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 6 and May 20.
  • Pinckney Recreation Area (Washtenaw County), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, May 7.
  • Yankee Springs Recreation Area (Barry County), 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7.
  • Fort Custer Recreation Area (Kalamazoo County), 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, May 12, and Sunday, May 21.
  • Bald Mountain Recreation Area (Oakland County), 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 13, and 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 17.
  • Island Lake Recreation Area (Livingston County), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 20.

Get more workday and registration details on the DNR volunteer events calendar.

Mears State Park Spring Volunteer Day

On Spring Volunteer Day, Saturday, May 6, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., volunteers will put out tables, benches and grills, clean campsites, paint park fixtures and help with other activities to get the park, in Oceana County, ready for the season. The event is open to the public, but campers who complete a full day of volunteering earn a free camp night (must be used this weekend). 

On the Ground habitat improvement projects

Join in wildlife habitat improvement efforts with On the Ground, Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ volunteer program in partnership with the DNR. Projects coming up in May include:

  • Jack Pine Planting Day, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6, in Grayling (Crawford County). Help plant thousands of jack pine seedlings within the Grayling Forest Management Unit in an area designated to the restoration of Kirtland’s warbler habitat.
  • Native wildflower planting, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 13, in the Huron-Manistee National Forest (Manistee County). Celebrate On the Ground’s 200th habitat improvement project by helping plant more than 2,000 native wildflower plugs that will support restoration of an oak-pine barrens site.
  • Fence removal and installation, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at Potterville State Game Area (Eaton County). Help remove old fencing and install new fencing, part of an ongoing project to restore grassland and wetland wildlife habitat at the recently established state game area. 

Find more details and register for these events at MUCC.org/on-the-ground.

For more opportunities to volunteer, contribute and provide input, visit Michigan.gov/DNRVolunteers


Try your luck this spring by foraging for Michigan’s famously elusive morel mushrooms. Find tips, tricks and safety info on our Mi-Morels webpage to start your foraging adventure.


Did you catch a Master Angler fish? Check minimum entry lengths, rules and requirements, view current state records and submit your application on the Master Angler webpage!


Want to spend time in your favorite state parks, rustic state forest campgrounds or harbors – without fees? Volunteer to be a host with the DNR!

Download the new Michigan DNR Hunt Fish app