The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is calling for public input on a new plan aimed at enhancing the state’s outdoor recreation facilities.
According to a report from Stamford Advocate, this initiative comes in response to a significant increase in visits to state parks.
The Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which outlines goals and strategies for the years 2024-2029, focuses on improving a range of recreational facilities, including state and municipal parks, trails, pools, beaches, and other areas for both passive and active recreation. DEEP is set to submit the finalized plan to the National Park Service by December 31.
DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes highlighted the importance of public engagement in this process.
This process connects us with a diverse group of recreationalists who hike, hunt, camp, fish, boat, bike, birdwatch and participate in various forms of outdoor recreation all across the state, so we better understand their needs and the appropriate resources to meet them,” Dykes said.
The demand for outdoor activities in Connecticut has seen a dramatic increase. According to DEEP, annual visits to state parks and forests grew to an estimated 17 million in 2022, marking a 75 percent increase from the 9 to 10 million visits recorded in 2019. The Outdoor Industry Association reported a 40 percent increase in activities such as climbing, hiking, and tent camping in the state between 2019 and 2022.
This surge in outdoor recreation has not only benefited the state’s parks but has also contributed significantly to the national economy. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported last year that outdoor recreation supported about five million jobs nationwide and added over $1.1 trillion to the economy.
The draft plan sets forth three key goals: providing equitable and sustainable access to outdoor recreation, enhancing visitor experiences and tourism, and addressing the threats of climate change on outdoor recreation. These goals aim to preserve natural, historic, and cultural resources while promoting strategies for habitat preservation, conservation, decarbonization, climate change mitigation, adaptation resilience, and education.
Investments are proposed in outdoor recreation infrastructure resilient to climate change impacts, such as floods. The plan also emphasizes sustainable operations to lower operating costs and reduce the carbon footprint of outdoor recreation facilities. Additionally, it promotes trail networks as effective transportation alternatives that can help reduce emissions.
Survey results included in the report provide insights into public preferences and priorities. Residents and stakeholders identified walking/hiking, visiting historic sites, and various water-based activities, including swimming and boating, as top recreational activities. The surveys also highlighted the need for increased funding in maintaining existing outdoor facilities and enhancing natural habitats supporting various activities.
However, the surveys also pointed out some challenges. Respondents cited limited opportunities in Connecticut for activities like ATV and dirt bike riding and hunting. Issues such as lack of available parking, distance from home, and poorly maintained facilities were identified as barriers to using outdoor recreation facilities.
Looking ahead, town officials predict that pickleball will gain popularity over the next five to ten years. Residents expressed a continued preference for picnic areas and shelters, as well as paved multi-use trails, aligning with trends observed since 2017.
The report also sheds light on disparities in the usage of outdoor facilities based on household income. Residents of households with incomes between $15,000 and $24,999 were least likely to have visited a state or municipal outdoor recreation facility in the past year. In contrast, households with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 were the most likely to have visited these facilities.
Featured image from Connecticut State Parks.