During the 1990s local governments accelerated efforts to identify, acquire and develop large "regional" parks. These parks help meet the needs for natural resource based outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking, swimming, fishing, boating, camping, picnicking, wildlife observation and environmental education.
Unfortunately, opportunities for local governments to acquire larger open space and natural resource lands at reasonable cost are rapidly diminishing. Development pressure is increasing, land prices are rapidly escalating, and opportunities for protection of key open space, such as shore lands, bluff lands, wetlands, woods and prairies are disappearing. Local governments often do not have adequate resources to respond to open space acquisition opportunities in a timely manner. Failure to aggressively address these issues over the next several years will result in loss of natural habitat and inadequate provision of open space and outdoor recreation opportunities for future generations.
Recognizing this problem, the state legislature in 2000 provided the initial funding for the Regional Park Grant Program. Local governments can apply for state matching grants for up to 60% of the appraised value of land to be acquired or development or redevelopment of facilities. These grants are effective tools that enable the state to work collaboratively with local governments to address the common goals of open space and natural habitat protection. Local governments assume the responsibility for ongoing operations and maintenance of these areas and agree that they will not convert the property to other uses in the future.
These grants provide a catalyst to encourage local investment in these areas and help promote state priorities such as acquiring lands that connect with or add to existing natural and open space areas, providing environmental education opportunities, providing natural resource based outdoor recreation opportunities, and enhancing existing DNR conservation efforts.
Since 2000, this program has helped to acquire approximately 2000 acres and assisted with 11 development projects throughout the state. For more information on projects funded through this program see the Regional Park grant history .