"Our beaches and parks are such a special part of who we are as Rhode Islanders, and we need to preserve them for future generations," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "The study DEM commissioned recently makes clear that we're not doing enough now. It's critical that we commit to long-term investments in our parks and beaches. Let's make sure our kids have the same opportunities that we did."
The study noted that Rhode Island exhibits high park use and low investment compared with the rest of the nation - ranking 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit. The study calls on the State to make a strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential of the park system, protect infrastructure, enhance programs, and bolster operations and staffing.
Rhode Island's natural and public assets - including 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, 25 parks, management areas, and nature preserves, and eight saltwater beaches - are magnets that attract more than 9 million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They're also an economic engine that add an estimated $315 million to the economy annually, generating nearly $40 million in state and local taxes and supporting nearly 4,000 jobs.
Over the past 15 years, budget and staffing cuts to DEM's Parks and Recreation Division, combined with increasing visitor use, longer seasons, aging facilities, and expanded responsibilities, have hindered DEM's ability to meet some park users' expectations.
Governor Raimondo has submitted a budget proposal for 2020 that would add $1.5 million in funding for DEM's Division of Parks and Recreation. The funds would support an additional eight employees, most of whom would help regional managers better meet core service requirements like cleaner facilities and bathrooms to improve visitors' experience.
The budget proposal alsi includes a business development office to seek out revenue-generating opportunities such as sponsorships and concession partnerships. The parks study grew out of work done by the RI Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC), a group created by an executive order signed by Governor Raimondo in January 2016 and chaired by First Gentleman Andy Moffit.
"As Rhode Islanders, we're incredibly lucky to have so many beautiful state beaches and parks to enjoy," said First Gentleman Andy Moffit. "I'm proud that the work of the Outdoor Recreation Council was the first step toward realizing our vision for outdoor recreation through the Parks Initiative."
"The Governor's Parks Initiative will ensure that we invest in these incredible places that do so much for Rhode Islanders and for our economy," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "This is a tremendous multi-year effort to increase staffing, adopt best practices, engage further with partners, and do more to realize the opportunities afforded by this magnificent system."
Director Coit noted that DEM will kick off a series of community listening sessions across Rhode Island to solicit ideas on how to improve our parks system. She encourages Rhode Islanders to attend these sessions to learn more about the parks report and Governor Raimondo's parks initiative. Sessions will be held as follows:
Wednesday, February 20
4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Westerly Town Hall Council Chambers
45 Broad Street, Westerly
Monday, February 25
4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Lincoln Woods Nature Center
Lincoln Woods State Park, Lincoln
Thursday, February 28
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Narragansett Community Center
53 Mumford Road, Narragansett
A fourth session will be held in Bristol, with details to be announced at a later date.