A new parks community outreach position in Washington County. Mental health and nature-based wellness programming in Scott County. A robust and equitable learn-to-ski program at Ramsey County’s Battle Creek Regional Park in Saint Paul and Maplewood.
These new initiatives are among 23 projects the Metropolitan Council awarded for regional parks equity grants this month. The grants total $2,054,000 for both programming and capital projects, and sometimes a combination of the two.
“This is really exciting work — it’s a nation-leading program,” said Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, Met Council member and liaison to the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission. “The park implementing agencies submitted strong projects that will increase access to programming for populations that have been historically underserved in the regional parks. Also, it will help diversify the employees within the park agencies.”
Find the list of projects submitted and funded in this Met Council meeting business item PDF.
Grants advance Met Council commitment to equity in regional parks
The Met Council committed to creating and funding a regional parks competitive equity grant program in Thrive MSP 2040, the regional development framework, and in the 2040 Regional Park Policy Plan. A 2019 pilot Equity Grant Program made $300,000 available for capital projects. The level of interest in the pilot program demonstrated the need for more funding, especially for equity programming, said Jessica Lee, Met Council parks planner.
The Met Council dedicated $664,000 in capital bonds and $1.4 million in parks fund interest earnings to the 2021 grant program. To encourage a broad distribution of funding across the region, a limit of $400,000 was set for each of the 10 park implementing agencies, including $200,000 from each funding source. In all, the agencies submitted 37 projects totaling $3.8 million in requests.
Inclusive, thorough evaluation process
A committee composed of members of the Met Council, Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission, the Met Council’s Equity Advisory Committee, and implementing agency staff evaluated the proposals. Committee members individually scored the applications using criteria that had been established through a public process.
Then, committee members came together to discuss the applications and consider additional issues, including geographic balance. They reached consensus on 23 projects.
“These were hard decisions to make because we received so many solid proposals,” said Peter Lindstrom, Met Council member who participated in the evaluation committee. “The evaluation process was very thoughtful and well-designed from start to finish.”
Opportunities to increase access in the future
Atlas-Ingebretson highlighted issues raised when the parks commission considered the grant recommendations, including measuring success and increasing transit access to regional parks.
“We hope and expect to see increased participation of underrepresented groups at the facilities and programs once they are up and running,” said Atlas-Ingebretson said. “Another measure would be diversification of employees in the regional parks system and throughout our field. We would like more of these opportunities to become permanent positions in the agencies. And the commission expressed a desire for stronger stakeholder engagement and relationships between the agencies.”
The commission also cited the need for parks agencies and Metro Transit to partner together to create opportunities to connect resources in the urban core and beyond.