Statement of Andrea Donlon, River Steward, Connecticut River Conservancy
Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture
May 18, 2021
S.560, An Act Establishing the Office of Outdoor Recreation
Thank you, Chairs Rausch and Dykema and the rest of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture for providing the opportunity to comment on An Act Establishing the Office of Outdoor Recreation. I am here today to speak in support of this legislation.
I work as a River Steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy. The Connecticut River Conservancy is a nonprofit citizen group established in 1952 as the Connecticut River Watershed Council to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed. Our headquarters office is in Greenfield, MA.
This bill to create an office of outdoor recreation was introduced in the last legislative session but it did not become law. My organization has seen this office created elsewhere in the northeast (for a summary of each state’s focus in this office, please see https://outdoorindustry.org/advocacy/state-local-issues/state-offices-outdoor-recreation/) , and it is time for Massachusetts to follow suit. In this testimony, I will describe two “real world” examples why an Office of Outdoor Recreation would be useful to making the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a great place to live and visit.
As part of my job, I’m involved in relicensing of several hydropower facilities on the Connecticut River and tributaries through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The relicensing process takes five or more years and the new license will be in place for the next 40-50 years. The Federal Power Act requires that FERC give equal consideration to protection of environmental qualities such as recreation as it does power generation. The Connecticut River is an incredible recreation resource, and relicensing is a time for planning and creating a vision for recreation on the river for the next half-century. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed that there is no point person at the Department of Conservation and Recreation whose job it is to attend meetings for multiple years, coordinate across EEA agencies, and be present to think through and advocate for recreational investments on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. An Office of Outdoor Recreation could fill that void.
The other issue we have seen building over the last several years, and particularly during the pandemic, is public access to official and unofficial swimming areas. As funding has dried up, public pools have closed down and user fees have gone up at many municipal or state-run locations. Consequently, free places to visit, like swimming holes at rivers across my watershed have become the go-to location for cooling off on a hot summer day. This has become a source of headaches at the local level, though, as certain areas become overly popular and there is crowding, unsanitary conditions, parking issues, littering, all-day use with full spreads of food, and user conflict. Often times, towns and landowners feel that the only solution is to close down an area and put up no trespassing signs or other restrictions. This moves the problem elsewhere and also presents a huge problem from an equity standpoint – not everyone is privileged enough to have access to a beautiful stream. But yet, regular access to “green spaces” and “blue spaces” (near water) cumulatively boosts long-term well being. Again, there is no position at the state level that we can consult who would assist across municipalities and agencies. An Office of Outdoor Recreation could help network and provide resources to solve these local problems and leverage funding to preserve and fund a wider network of swimming areas and blue spaces.
In conclusion, living near, recreating in, and feeling psychologically connected to, the natural world are all associated with better mental health. Having a wide variety of recreation opportunities is also good for the economy. The Connecticut River Conservancy requests that this committee report S.560 out favorably so that MA can create an Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Thank you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 772-2020 x.205.