On the hit TV show Shark Tank, entrepreneurs go in front of a panel judges and present their best ideas, asking the “sharks” to invest in their company. These entrepreneurs have big dreams – they just need a little extra help to make those dreams a reality.

Consumers Energy’s Put Your Town on the Map contest is a similar concept, except it’s not a panel of sharks judging the ideas and it’s not about investing in a business. Rather, the Put your Town on the Map Contest is focused on Michigan’s small towns and the big ideas they want to bring to life to help transform their communities. As part of this contest, the Consumers Energy Foundation provides three Michigan communities with a total of $50,000.

Nearly 100 small and rural communities from around the state submitted their ideas to the 2022 Put Your Town on the Map contest. The top 10 finalists just pitched their projects to a panel of judges at the 2022 Small Town and Rural Development Conference led by the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM).

The city of Big Rapids in Mecosta county won first place and received $25,000. The city of Gaylord in Otsego county received $15,000 as runner-up, and the city of Hart in Oceana county received $10,000.

“Consumers Energy recognizes that Michigan’s small and rural towns may not have the same access as larger cities to resources to support projects in their communities.  That is why we are so proud to celebrate the big ideas from our small towns and champion the Put Your Town on the Map contest,” said Brandon Hofmeister, president of the Consumers Energy Foundation. “These winning projects will help transform and grow their communities, and we look forward to celebrating with them once the projects are complete.”

The city of Big Rapids will use their $25,000 award to create the Big Rapids Skatepark Project. The new skate park will provide the city with the most colorful, welcoming, modernized skatepark in northern Michigan. Along with the skatepark’s development, staff are exploring expanding public art with skateable art, a graffiti wall and unique sculptures. Big Rapids expects the skate park to be developed in Swede Hill Park along the city’s existing 4.5-mile Riverwalk, which is a popular destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

“We are so grateful to be receiving this funding from the Consumers Energy Foundation Pitch Competition because it allows us to move ahead with phase one developments for the skatepark,” said Jessie Black, Big Rapids Community Economic Development Specialist. “As a newly designated Pure Michigan Trail Town, adding a cutting edge skatepark along the city’s Riverwalk trail is great for the local skaters/BMXers and other outdoor enthusiasts coming to visit.”

In Gaylord, the city plans to use their award to address a three-block blighted alleyway and develop Art in the Alley Way to connect the Gaylord Gateway Trailhead to Claude Shannon Park. Art in the Alley Way will be a year-round social gathering place that supports street art exhibitions complete with murals, a place to highlight local artists’ work, waste receptacles, lighting and benches.

The city of Hart received $10,000 as the third-place finisher in this year’s contest. With a goal of bringing more visitors to their downtown, Hart recently started an initiative called The Hart Project. Its mission is to “put the art in Hart.” They are working to host a large art event, install 25 murals by 2025, and build a 20-ft tin man sculpture holding a huge heart in Downtown Hart.

The 2022 Put Your Town on the Map competition was the third time the Foundation hosted the pitch competition. Communities with a population of up to 10,000 were eligible to apply.