(22/P021) TRENTON – To expand the Murphy administration’s historic investments in local parks, open spaces and natural resource restoration, the Department of Environmental Protection is launching Outside, Together!, a recreational initiative that will bring together the public, local leaders, conservation organizations and the ecotourism industry around a statewide comprehensive outdoor recovery plan, Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today, Earth Day, at Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus.
To emphasize the importance of this work, Commissioner LaTourette is issuing an administrative order updating the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), which establishes the state’s priorities for and access to parkland and open spaces. This update will bring the Outside, Together! planning initiative.
DEP is taking a new approach to updating its SCORP, a recurring requirement to be eligible for National Park Service funding. Outside, together! will have deep and robust public engagement and reform funding policies and protocols to prioritize land acquisition. These reforms are expected to ensure a fairer and more equitable distribution of recreation and conservation funds. The announcement of this initiative ties in with the global theme of this year’s Earth Day, Invest in Our Planet.
“The outside, together! The plan will give us the opportunity to ensure our communities have equitable access to the benefits of New Jersey’s natural resources,” he said Governor Murphy. “This initiative is particularly important as we continue to assess how climate change will affect leisure activities as well as the future of our natural resources. I look forward to expanding our investments in local parks, open spaces and natural resource restoration to best serve all of our New Jersey residents.”
Earlier this year, DEP established the Community Investment and Economic Revitalization Program, recognizing that the department’s work is at the intersection of environmental, social and economic improvement. A primary function of the program is to strengthen investments in natural capital that can improve the quality of life for all New Jersey residents. With this new program, DEP takes a new approach to updating the SCORP.
“Every New Jersey community should have quality gear, amenities, and opportunities for families and children to enjoy the great outdoors,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “Outside, together! is DEP’s promise to the public that their input is essential to creating a blueprint that improves and ensures fair and just recreation and conservation practices statewide.”
As part of today’s Administrative Order, Commissioner LaTourette mandated an Advisory Committee to work with DEP and advocate for the public on six core principles of Outside, Together! to include:
- Develop quality open spaces and recreational opportunities for all New Jersey residents;
- Improving climate resilience and sustainability through acquisition and development;
- empowering communities by investing in ecotourism and outdoor recreation;
- embracing the role of technology in conservation and outdoor recreation;
- promoting equity and environmental justice through outdoor recreation; and
- Continued commitment to managing and conserving and restoring biodiversity.
Beginning this summer and into next spring, multiple engagement opportunities will allow the DEP to set priorities, define actions to optimize access to open spaces and parklands, and help align government leisure investments with environmental, climate, equity and economic goals. Actions the Advisory Committee will take include:
- Educate the public about open spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities across the state and how they can improve health and well-being in overburdened communities;
- increasing the economic benefits of conservation, including those addressing climate resilience and sustainability, ecotourism and biodiversity;
- Providing multiple opportunities for the public and key partners to contribute to outdoor recreation needs and goals through surveys and public information listening sessions;
- Identification of political, regulatory and/or legislative measures to promote open space and outdoor recreation goals.
The DEP will be issuing a solicitation for hiring a consultant to work with the Advisory Board for Outside, Together! in the coming weeks. plan development. DEP has secured a SCORP planning grant from the National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund to offset part of the cost.
Advisory Committee members include DEP Deputy Commissioners from the Community Investment and Economic Revitalization, Fish & Wildlife and Parks, Forests & Historic Sites programs, as well as representatives from environmental groups, environmental justice advocates, economic development agencies and other community groups.
“ANJEC is excited to partner with DEP and celebrate the launch of Outside, Together!” said Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. “Access to quality open spaces is a right afforded to every New Jersey resident, and this project brings improved equitable access to open spaces, particularly in communities that do not already benefit from protected lands and wild places. We know that quality open spaces are essential to improve our resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis and to generate economic benefits through tax stabilization and increasing the value of surrounding real estate.”
“Interaction is the gateway to understanding” said Marcus Sibley, Chair of the NJ NAACP for Environmental and Climate Justice. “There have long been barriers to access and inclusion in our outdoor recreation spaces, so we support initiatives like ‘Outside, Together!’ because of the opportunities for growth, advancement, and healing when we are all out there together.”
“Protecting parks, land and wildlife is an integral part of the Sierra Club, which is why we’re very proud of DEP’s ‘Outside, Together!’ be happy. Initiative,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey. “New Jersey is one of the most unique places in the country. From the Highlands to the Pinelands, to the beautiful beaches of Sandy Hook and the vast Lake Hopatcong. These types of areas need to progress with appropriate growth and development and capitalize on their historic ecotourism potential. At the same time, they must be climate-resilient. More importantly, open spaces, parks and historic sites must be accessible to all, especially in urban areas.”
The Advisory Committee is expected to meet in June and begin conducting research and surveys this summer. Stakeholder engagement is expected to begin this fall, with a draft plan being developed in early 2023. The plan could be ready for public scrutiny as early as spring 2023 and finalized this summer.
To learn more about Outside, Together! and to view a copy of the Administrative Order, visit https://dep.nj.gov/outside-together
For more information on Earth Week and Earth Day in New Jersey and DEP’s 50+2 Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, April 23 at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, visit https://nj.gov/dep/ 52earthday/
Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur and follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP, Facebook @newjerseydep, Instagram @nj.dep and LinkedIn @newjerseydep