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Massachusetts launches Office of Outdoor Recreation

 A pond along the Appalachian Trail at the Mount Greylock State Reservation
Jim Levulis
A pond along the Appalachian Trail at the Mount Greylock State Reservation

In its waning days in office, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has announced the creation of the Massachusetts Office of Outdoor Recreation. The entity, within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, is meant to coordinate outdoor recreation policy working with other governmental bodies and the private sector.

WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Beth Card, the state’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, about the expectations for the new office.

Card: We are really excited to announce the launch of Massachusetts’ Office of Outdoor Recreation. This is really an opportunity here in the Commonwealth, for many of our state agencies to partner in order to focus on enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities throughout Massachusetts, and to bring opportunities to all of our citizens and visitors as well, also focusing on economic, environmental and quality of life benefits that participating in activities outdoors can bring to us.

Levulis: And so will this kind of be a clearing house of sort taking work that is currently being done within state government within different agencies, whether it be, you know, on the environment side, on the tourism side, and kind of providing a focal point for them?

Card: I think that's a good way to describe it. I look at this as a coordinating office, really bringing together and enhancing the work that so many of our state agencies, whether it's on the environmental side, or the parks and land and conservation side, and the economic development side, to work together to pursue funding to work with both private entities and our local communities, to better spotlight opportunities for outdoor recreation in Massachusetts and all that that comes along with that. So it really is an opportunity to help coordinate and magnify the good work that's happening now and do more of it.

Levulis: And when looking at specifically an area like Mount Greylock and the surrounding communities in the northern Berkshires, now it's home to the Mount Greylock State Reservation run by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. There's also a multimillion dollar Greylock Glen Resort project under development, how might this new Office of Outdoor Recreation aid a region like that region in this moment?

Card: Sure. And you really did highlight some really great things happening in the Berkshire area and in Mount Greylock in particular, and all that we have to look forward to with the visitors’ center there. I think an office, like the Office of Outdoor Recreation really helps spotlight the fact that these opportunities exist right here in Massachusetts, and to you know, let our folks know that we don't have to leave Massachusetts to enjoy and avail ourselves of great opportunities outdoors, we can do it right here at home. I think another thing that this office will be focused on is making sure that maybe folks who in the past haven't had the same level of access, or ability to access, outdoor recreational opportunities, we'll have that and work on finding ways to partner with our local organizations and stakeholders to make that happen. So really want to make folks 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 or will an individual be named to lead this office?

Card: So you're right, we are in a transition period now. We have the position posted for the director of this Office of Outdoor Recreation. And so we're actively seeking a qualified folks to apply. I don't know that we will have a person in place and up and running in the weeks that we have left in this administration. But I think we're trying to get it as up and running as we can and set the office up for success moving into the New Year. So really just trying to get the ball rolling, while we have the opportunity to do so.

Levulis: And we'll note that the new office that we've been speaking about is within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Where will the funding for this office come? Will it be a budget line for EEA?

Card: So right now, we're utilizing a budget line through our Department of Conservation and Recreation. And that is enough to get us get us going and get the office running in the year ahead. We anticipate that there will continue to be state support for the program. But when we look at other programs like this across the country, we also know that part of the job of the Director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation is to continue to look to other federal grants, for example, or other state grant programs that might support the office and the work that it does and look for other private partnerships as well. So we'll look to diversify the funding that we're utilizing 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 might there be funding within that?

Card: I think there are opportunities in that type of legislation. And one of the things that we'll be doing is, and we have already started to do is collaborate and partner with other states across the country that have established offices. So we're learning some best practices from them, understanding different funding opportunities, as well. And so really look to take those lessons learned so that we can establish a really solid program here in Massachusetts.

Levulis: And you mentioned that 17 other states have similar entities as this Office of Outdoor Recreation. Was there a particular state or states that Massachusetts looked to more specifically to maybe replicate what it's done?

Card: I don't think that we chose one particular model. As you note, there are many good examples across the country, some here in the Northeast, and some as far away as California. So we, I think what we tried to do was pick some of the best or most appropriate approaches for what we can do here in Massachusetts. And I think what we've formed, with really coordinating with local partners, local associations, state associations, and private entities really to work together as a team, and to guide some of the decisions that we are making how we best reach across from environment to economic development. I think, looking at that type of collaborative model seems like the right fit for us here in Massachusetts.

Levulis: And then Secretary, look at beyond this topic, as we mentioned, the Baker administration is in its final days. You've been a member of the administration since 2021, but you've worked in the environmental sector in the Commonwealth for many years. What do you see as this administration's greatest environmental successes?

Card: Well, I think this administration has done incredible work on things like climate, and focusing on passing climate legislation that helps us achieve a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We've done so much to work to coordinate and invest on different renewable energy programs like solar and offshore wind. I think we are a leader in those areas. And I think that's been incredible work. At the same time, on the environment side, we have been proactive, working on programs to invest in water quality sampling, on tough challenges like PFAS and looking at working on passing legislation focused on notification for combined sewer overflows, as well. So I think across the gamut from climate, to renewable energy and energy efficiency to environmental programs, we've done a lot in the last eight years and have a lot to be proud of.

Levulis: Any area or project you would have liked to have seen some more movement on?

Card: No, I think we've made a lot of progress and that's what we'll focus on now. And certainly, on issues like climate and energy and environment, there's always plenty of work to do. But I will say I am optimistic about what the team going forward will continue to accomplish. And when I think about things, like what we're talking about with this Office of Outdoor Recreation, when we bring people outside and bring these opportunities to them, and to the environment, they learn to care for it and to want to protect it. And I think that's the beauty of what we're trying to do here today. And I think there's lots of opportunities for that. So pleased to be a part of it.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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