MEDIA — Telling the 49 municipalities the time to apply is now, Delaware County Council has opened a $10 million gate for funding open space and recreation projects.
"The new grant program, Delco Green Ways, will make funds available to municipalities for local open space and recreation projects throughout the county," county council Chairman John McBlain said.
"We established the Open Space funding with the borrowing that we did last year and now it's time to start pushing that money out to municipalities so that we can improve our green space and parks throughout the county," he continued.
County council encouraged municipal officials to apply for funding by visiting: https://www.delcopa.gov/planning/currentprojects/DelcoGreenWays.html.
Applications are now being accepted and are due by Sept. 9. Awards will be announced by Oct. 23.
These grants can be used for conservation purposes, such as fee simple acquisitions and conservation or trail easements on private lands; enhancements for capital improvements to park and recreational facilities; connections, including construction of multi-use segments of the countywide trail network or of local multi-use trials; and professional services including comprehensive open space plans, feasibility studies, design and engineering and permitting.
The grants can only cover up to 25 percent of the total cost of a project and cap out at $100,000 for professional services or enhancements and $500,000 for land acquisitions or connections. All grants require a local match from 15 to 50 percent of the total cost.
"The objective of the Delco Green Ways program is to assist municipalities in achieving their local open space and recreation goals while also furthering the objectives of Delaware County's goals of open space and recreation across the county," McBlain said.
In October, council approved borrowing $40 million for a variety of items, including $10 million for the preservation and improvements to open space, parks and recreation.
The Delaware County Open Space Task Force recommended this allocation last year, in presenting its suggestions for implementing the county's "Open Space, Recreation and Greenway Plan." This study is part of the County's Comprehensive Plan, Delaware County 2035.
In addition to the municipal grants, the task force also recommended an infusion of capital investments in the county parks and funding for professional services support for open space and recreation projects.
In the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's 2011-2016 Open Space Inventory Comparison of nine counties in the Delaware Valley region, Delaware County was the second lowest with 12,675 acres in 2016. The lowest was Philadelphia with 12,414 protected acres that year.
Delaware County was only county to experience a decrease in that five-year period, having started with 12,913 protected acres in 2011.
According to the DVRPC, the change came in a 265 acre loss in private protect open space during those five years. Public protected space increased 27 acres then.
When evaluating percentages of protected open space, the DVRPC ranked Delaware County last of the nine counties with 10.6 percent of the total area protected, followed by Montgomery and Philadelphia counties boht with 12.1 percent. The average for the region was 22.6 percent.
In expressing his excitement for the Delco Green Ways program, Councilman Brian Zidek noted the county's rankings in conjunction with the kickoff.
"We live ... in a very densely populated county that lags significantly behind our neighboring counties in open space preservation," he said. "And, while we may be late to the game in preserving open space, I'm glad that we're starting to take some more actions."