In the final days of his tenure, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration announced the creation of the Massachusetts Office of Outdoor Recreation. The unit within the Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs is to coordinate outdoor recreation policy in cooperation with other government agencies and the private sector.
WAMC’s Jim Levulis spoke to Beth Card, Secretary of State for Energy and Environmental Affairs, about expectations for the new office.
Card: We are very excited to announce the launch of the Office of Outdoor Recreation in Massachusetts. This is truly an opportunity here in the Commonwealth for many of our state agencies to come together to focus on improving outdoor recreation opportunities across Massachusetts and providing opportunities for all of our citizens and visitors, also with a focus on the economy and environment and quality of life , which can bring us participation in outdoor activities.
Levulis: And so this will be a kind of clearing house that will take over the work that is currently being done within the state government in different agencies, be it on the environmental side, on the tourism side and provide a kind of hub for them?
Card: I think that’s a good way to describe it. I see this as a coordinating office that brings together and enhances the work of so many of our government agencies, be it on the environmental side or on the parks and land side and conservation and on the economic development side of pursuing funding to both To work with both private entities and our local communities to better highlight the opportunities for outdoor recreation in Massachusetts and all that goes with it. So it’s really an opportunity to coordinate and scale up the good work that’s happening now and do more of it.
Levulis: And if you look specifically at an area like Mount Greylock and the surrounding communities in the northern Berkshires, it’s now home to Mount Greylock State Reservation, which is operated by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. A multi-million dollar Greylock Glen resort project is also under development. How could this new Office of Outdoor Recreation help a region like this at this moment?
Map: Sure. And you really highlighted some really great things that are happening in the Berkshire area and Mount Greylock in particular and all that we can look forward to with the visitor center there. I think an office like the Office of Outdoor Recreation really helps highlight the fact that these opportunities exist right here in Massachusetts and let our people know that we don’t have to leave Massachusetts to enjoy and take advantage of great things Outdoor possibilities, we can do it right here at home. I think another thing that this office will focus on is making sure that maybe people who haven’t had the same access or access to outdoor recreation opportunities in the past do and are working to find ways with our local Organizations and stakeholders working together to achieve this. So I really want to make people aware of what’s here and do more to invest in it and protect it.
Levulis: Now Secretary, the Baker administration is in its final days in office. Has a person been or will be appointed to head this office?
Card: So you’re right, we’re in a transition phase right now. We have advertised the position of director of this outdoor recreation office. That is why we are actively looking for qualified people to apply. I don’t know if we’ll have a person in place for the weeks that we have left in this administration. But I think we’re trying to make it work as well as possible and prepare the office for the successful move into the new year. So really just trying to get the ball rolling while we have the opportunity.
Levulis: And we will note that the new office that we talked about is located within the Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs. Where does the funding for this office come from? Will it be an EEA budget line?
Card: So right now we’re using a budget line from our Department of Conservation and Recreation. And that’s enough to get us going and the office up and running in the year to come. We assume that the program will continue to be funded by the state. But as we look at other programs like this one across the country, we also know that part of the job of the director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation is to keep an eye out for other federal grants or other state grant programs, for example, about the office and its work support and also look for other private partnerships. As such, we will seek to diversify the funding we use to support this program. And that will be part of the role of the new office.
Levulis: Yeah, I wonder if a piece of legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act could have funding in it?
Card: I think this kind of legislation offers opportunities. And one of the things that we’re going to do, and we’ve already started working and partnering with other states across the country that have offices set up. So we learn some best practices from them and also understand different funding options. And really try to use those lessons learned so we can build a really solid program here in Massachusetts.
Levulis: And you mentioned that 17 other states have facilities similar to this Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. Was there a specific state or states that Massachusetts focused on more closely, perhaps to replicate what it was doing?
Card: I don’t think we decided on a specific model. As you note, there are many good examples across the country, some here in the Northeast and others as far north as California. I think we’ve tried to pick some of the best or most appropriate approaches to what we can do here in Massachusetts. And I think what we’ve formed by really coordinating with local partners, local associations, state associations and private entities to really work together as a team and guide some of the decisions that we make in a way that we do best achieve environment for economic development. I think looking at this kind of collaborative model seems like the right thing for us here in Massachusetts.
Levulis: And then, Minister, look beyond that, as we mentioned, the Baker administration is in its final days. You have been a member of the administration since 2021 but have worked in the environmental sector in the Commonwealth for many years. What do you think are the greatest environmental achievements of this government?
Card: Well, I think this administration has done an incredible job on climate and has focused on passing climate legislation that will help us reach the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We have done so much to coordinate and invest on various renewable energy programs such as solar and offshore wind. I think we are leaders in these areas. And I think that was incredible work. At the same time, we have been proactive on the environmental side, working on programs to invest in water quality sampling, on tough challenges like PFAS, and considering work on passing legislation that also focuses on reporting overflows in combined sewers. So I think that in the last eight years we have done a lot and have a lot to be proud of across the spectrum from climate to renewable energy and energy efficiency to environmental programs.
Levulis: Are there any areas or projects where you would have liked to see more movement?
Card: No, I think we’ve made a lot of progress and that’s what we’re going to focus on now. And there is certainly always a lot to do when it comes to issues such as climate, energy and the environment. But I will say that I am optimistic about what the team will continue to achieve in the future. And when I think about things that we talk about with this outdoor recreation agency, when we take people outside and give them and the environment these opportunities, they learn to care and want to protect them. And I think that’s the beauty of what we’re trying to do here today. And I think there are many ways to do that. So glad to be a part of it.