When the outdoors beckons in Massachusetts, the establishment of the new State Office of Outdoor Recreation will make it easier for residents to find activities and places to do them.
The office, to be housed under the state Executive for Energy and Environment, will primarily focus on ensuring all residents and visitors can experience the economic, environmental, social and health benefits of being outdoors.
“I am very pleased that the administration has embraced the concept,” said State Senator Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, co-chair of the Massachusetts Sportsmen’s Caucus, who has been a key supporter of the new agency.
Local lawmakers join Baker, Polito on Wachusett Mountain
Local lawmakers met with Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. gov. Karyn Polito to announce the establishment of the office.
The new agency will work with other state agencies also involved in promoting the great outdoors, including departments such as Fish and Game, Conservation and Recreation, the Office of Travel and Tourism, and the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership.
“Outdoor recreation is an enduring economic engine for communities across the Commonwealweal, creating jobs and supporting small businesses,” said Polito, listing some of the amenities Massachusetts has to offer, from beaches to historic parks to ski slopes and hiking trails .
“This office will foster collaboration between local communities, outdoor businesses and the community and expand those opportunities even further.”
Baker said the new office will “help us continue to strengthen this growing sector by working with engaged and passionate stakeholders. From the Berkshires to the Cape and Islands, the Commonwealth offers a range of recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”
Designed to coordinate outdoor recreation policy at the state level, the office will find and address funding opportunities to improve and expand existing programs and infrastructure, support the recreation economy, promote equity and access, while promoting the state as a “great Work, live and enjoy the great outdoors.”
Outdoor recreation in Massachusetts grew 24% last year, said Jessica Wahl Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
Boating is a major economic driver in the state
One sector alone, saltwater and freshwater recreational boating, contributed $4 billion to the state’s economy, said Randall Lyons, executive director of the Massachusetts Marine Trade Association. The industry employs about 20,000 people and circulates dollars spent by residents as well as monies spent by tourists visiting the Bay State.
“Massachusetts is recognized as the state with the best quality of life in the nation,” said Jon Schaefer, CEO of several mountain resorts, including Charlemont’s Berkshire East Ski Resort and Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, and Catamount Mountain Resort in Hillsdale, New York mountain peaks there is a diversity of landscapes, environments, people and organizations to discover. Connecting these together and telling the right story will bring a significant benefit to our beautiful state.”
The Massachusetts ski industry provides thousands of jobs for residents of all ages and creates opportunities for people to have fun close to where they live and work, said Jeff Crowley, CEO of Wachusett Mountain Ski Resort.
“Skiing and other outdoor sports are more than just hobbies in Massachusetts, they’re multigenerational activities that are part of our heritage,” Crowley said, adding that time spent outside in the beauty of the mountains brings people closer brings together.
Gobi said that many Massachusetts private and public organizations invest in the environment and outdoor recreation, but they “everyone does their own thing. This office will bring them together.”
Management has funded the Office for the fiscal year with $320,000, a budget that includes the director’s salary, operating expenses and consulting fees. The office is looking for a director.
Kevin Bailey, Medford’s director of parks and recreation, said he was excited to learn about the new agency.
“It’s a great office for the state,” Bailey said, noting that the importance of outdoor recreation has been underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s so important to have outdoor recreation. People are looking for more opportunities.”
Bailey is confident that the benefits of having an umbrella office to promote opportunities nationwide will trickle down to the local level.
“Many of the local parks in Medford are leased from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation,” Bailey said.
Similar offices elsewhere
Massachusetts joins 17 other states to establish a similar bureau.
Gobi insisted on ensuring these opportunities are made available across the board, noting that nearby hiking trails are useless if they are inaccessible to local residents.
“People of all abilities want to enjoy all that Massachusetts has to offer,” Gobi said. “This focus on bringing together so many different agencies, companies, private and public institutions will inspire a new spirit of adventure and enjoyment.”
“We need to connect people to the trails,” Gobi said, and connect people to outdoor recreation opportunities. These connections must be universal, regardless of physical ability, income level, or location.
“Building partnerships in support of outdoor recreation is critical to a vibrant 21st century economy and high quality of life in central Massachusetts and in every corner of the state,” said State Senator John J. Cronin, D-Leominster. “I am grateful to the Baker-Polito administration for their leadership and vision in creating this office.”