By Jeff Perry, Sandwich
Massachusetts has a rich and diverse system of State parks, a vast amount of open space and a long legacy of environmental leadership. In fact, approximately one-quarter, or 1.3 million acres, of Massachusetts is protected open space and 43 percent of that (606,650 acres) is State-owned. In my view, this greatly adds to the quality of life to our citizens and is one of the reasons many visitors decide to come to Massachusetts.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is the leading land manager for the Commonwealth and is responsible for managing 450,000 acres of the State's open space. All of the Commonwealth's 6.4 million residents are within a few minutes or a few hours drive of all of our forests and parks. The staff of DCR is a committed group of people who have done a great job trying to maintain our land and park system. We are fortunate to have several State parks right here on Cape Cod, including the award winning Shawme-Crowell State Forest in Sandwich.
Despite campaign promises by Governor Patrick, his budget grossly under funds the DCR. Inadequate funding in the past has led to visible decay, safety issues and environmental damage in our parks, and has also taken a serious toll on communities across the Commonwealth, a number of which rely on DCR for parks, roads and other vital public services.
Our parks and forests provide ample opportunities for healthy living and contribute to healthy communities. As violence continues to plague our youth, we should consider that well-maintained parks and outdoor recreation programs can reduce neighborhood crime by 10 to 40 percent. Our urban parks are part of a statewide network of safe havens to reduce crime, delinquency, and improve the health of our youth. In a Nation where our youth are more inclined to play video games, our outdoor recreations are more important than ever.
Our State parks are more than places for us to exercise, relax and enjoy our historic and natural legacy. They are a crucial underutilized part of our economy generating $26 dollars of wages, taxes, and other services for every $1 dollar invested. If allowed to deteriorate further we will eventually feel the ripple effects in lost visitors, lost jobs and lost dollars. In our efforts to solve the 'brain drain' and attract new businesses to the Commonwealth, we cannot continue to ignore the natural and recreational resources in our backyards as part of the solution. Governor Patrick is short sighted to balance the State Budget by reducing the necessary funding to protect these natural resources.
I have joined forces with Representative Mike Rush (D-Boston) and other concerned Legislators to make sure our forests and parks remain a resource that is properly cared for in next year's budget and in years to come. The upside to making a commitment to our open space and State parks will be improved quality of life, increased jobs, and private sector revenues associated to this sector, along with protecting these invaluable resources for generations.
While it is too early in this budget cycle to determine whether we will able to overturn the devastating environmental budget cuts Governor Patrick has suggested in his first budget proposal, I remain committed to doing all that I can to ensure we allocate the necessary financial resources to protect our invaluable natural ones.
State Representative Jeff Perry represents the Cape Cod 5th district which includes parts of Barnstable, Bourne, Mashpee and Sandwich.
His Cape office is at 93 Route 6A, Post Office Box 1435, Sandwich, MA 02563 - Phone: 508-888-2158 or email.