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Cousins, Riley Herman, 3, and Gus Herman, 3, play on the playground Thursday, August 23, 2018 at Pioneer Frontier Park in East Ridge, Tennessee. The two visit the park at least three times a week.

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Hamilton County park

A new splash pad in East Ridge, field improvements on Signal Mountain and upgraded playground equipment in Soddy-Daisy are beneficiaries of more than $15 million in public grants administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to help fund parks and recreation projects in communities statewide.

This week's announcement included four Hamilton County projects, that will receive $1.26 million in grants. The communities will be required to provide $1.12 million in matching funds. Recipients were selected through a screening process after applying for the grants.

"Local parks and recreational facilities provide a valuable service to communities," TDEC Commissioner Shari Meghreblian said in a statement. "TDEC is happy to support these projects that lead to an increased quality of life for Tennesseans."

Among the support was an expected $200,000 grant given to the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association of Chattanooga to develop up to 10 miles of natural surface trail near Red Bank and Signal Mountain. The funds will be paired with additional grants from the Lyndhurst Foundation, Access Fund and REI to create the park, which will include a bouldering area, hiking, mountain biking and green space along Mountain Creek Road. The state funding will be used to develop the downhill mountain bike trails on the slope of Signal Mountain.

"It's an amazing, very helpful tool. It's one of the best ways that local municipalities can get these accomplished," Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb said. "It's a great way to turn opportunities into reality."

Two softball fields in Signal Mountain behind the country club will be replaced using $400,000 in grants and $400,000 in matching funds. Marion and Driver fields have major drainage problems due to their age and need renovations, said town manager Boyd Veal.

The fields will be redone with an updated drainage system, fence improvements, resurfacing and new bleachers.

"It's been on the radar that we needed to make some major improvements," Veal said. "As they age and settle, you run into those water issues. It's not a terribly simple scenario to resolve those things. We were really looking at a major project here, and the availability of that grant certainly helped us move forward much quicker."

In East Ridge, a $500,000 grant will be matched to replace the playground and add a splash pad at Pioneer Frontier park. The playground was created in the early 1990s by community members who raised money and helped take care of repairs for almost 15 years before the city took control. The park now includes a playground, a paved track, picnic tables, restroom facilities and a gazebo.

Northend Park in Soddy-Daisy will get an updated playground and surface that meets current Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The town was granted $165,000 and will use $165,000 in matching funds.

"Easy access to parks, trails, walking paths and other recreational facilities can make a good community a great community," Gov. Bill Haslam said in a release. "These grants provide the resources needed to help make Tennessee an even more desirable place to live, work and raise a family."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

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