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Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grantsUrban Rivers Program

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is the name for a family of funds supporting natural resource protection and nature-based outdoor recreation in Wisconsin.

Some Stewardship funds are available as grants to local governments and nonprofit conservation organizations (known as LUGs and NCOs). Brief information about each subprogram is below. For detailed information about applying for any one of these grant programs, follow links below to application materials and contact grant staff in your region of the state. Stewardship grants can be grouped, generally, into two categories:

Grants to purchase land or conservation easements

Grants to purchase land or fund recreational development on public lands

Urban Rivers Program

See s. 30.277, Wis. Stats. [exit DNR]; ch. NR 51, subchap XIV, Wis. Adm. Code, [exit DNR]

Who can apply

Who can apply

Local governments and tribal governments

Eligible local governments are only those towns, villages, cities, counties and tribal governments that have a DNR accepted comprehensive outdoor recreation plan or master plan which has been approved by resolution by the local governing unit. A county outdoor recreation plan that has been adopted by the town, village or city and that contains sufficient detail related to the grant project may also satisfy the plan requirement. Local governments with qualifying plans receive eligibility to apply for grants for up to five years. If you have not submitted a plan, contact your DNR regional community services specialists (CSS) for information about how to satisfy this requirement.

Nonprofit conservation organizations

Nonprofit conservation organizations (NCO) are eligible to apply to the Stewardship programs for land acquisition. An eligible NCO must be a nonprofit corporation, charitable trust or other nonprofit association as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It must also have as part of its mission "the acquisition of property for conservation purposes." This mission should be reflected in the bylaws, charter or incorporation papers of the organization. To learn if your organization is eligible, simply supply the region CSS with a copy of your IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter, as well as copies of your Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. In addition to these basic eligibility requirements, an NCO must also be able to demonstrate that it has the financial capacity to carry out a project, as well as the ability to maintain and manage property over time. This determination is made when a NCO applies for a grant for a specific project.


Eligible projects

  • Acquires land or land rights that preserve or restore natural values, including aesthetic values and enhance environmental quality along urban waterways.
  • Provides new or expanded diverse recreational opportunities to all segments of urban populations.
  • Provides new or expanded access to urban waterways.
  • Acquires blighted lands that will be restored to complement riverfront redevelopment activities.
  • Encourages comprehensive riverway planning within and between municipalities and agencies.
  • Provides opportunities for increasing tourism.
  • Acquires lands that through proper management will improve or protect water quality.
  • Provides shoreline enhancement associated with river corridor restoration after dam removal.

Relationship to the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan - Activities must be in locally approved plans. See ch. NR 51, subchap XIV, Wis. Adm. Code, [exit DNR], for information about eligible projects and program priorities.


Program purpose

Stewardship allocates 20 percent of the funds available in the Local Assistance Program annually to the Urban Rivers (UR) program. Funds are allocated statewide so applicants compete against other applicants statewide in the project selection process. Funding will be provided for projects that are part of a plan to enhance the quality of a river corridor. There is a sponsor cap of 20 percent which means that no sponsor can receive more than 20 percent of the funds allocated in any fiscal year.


Program priorities

The Urban Rivers program aims to restore or preserve the character of urban riverways through the acquisition or development of land adjacent to rivers. Purposes of the program are:

  • to provide for economic revitalization through the restoration or preservation of urban rivers or riverfronts including nature-based outdoor recreation opportunities;
  • to improve outdoor recreational opportunities by increasing access to urban rivers for a variety of public uses, including but not limited to, fishing, wildlife observation, enjoyment of scenic beauty, canoeing, boating, hiking and bicycling;
  • to preserve or restore significant historical, cultural or natural areas along urban rivers; and
  • to serve public recreation or resource conservation purposes through development or habitat restoration projects, including river riparian buffer rehabilitation (establishment of native vegetation and control of exotic species), shoreland enhancements following dam removal and shoreline stabilization as part of an overall urban rivers recreation project.

Grants awarded

Grants are awarded for up to 50% of eligible project costs. The sponsor's share of project costs must come from non-state sources. There is a sponsor cap of 20% which means that no sponsor can receive more than 20% of the funds allocated in any fiscal year.

How to apply

How to apply

For information on how to apply, see local units of government application process.


Application deadlines

Application deadline is May 1.

Last revised: Tuesday March 21 2017