AP NEWS

Outdoor Recreation Office Eyed to Boost Economy, Health

May 12, 2019

By Colin A. Young

State House News Service

BOSTON -- Touting a roughly $16 billion industry in Massachusetts, activists on Tuesday called on lawmakers to create a new state office that would promote outdoor recreation -- downhill skiing, backpacking, whitewater rafting, pleasure boating and more -- and maximize its impact.

A Sen. Adam Hinds bill would establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs “with the purpose of collaborating across tourism, economic development and health agencies as well as with stakeholders to promote and improve outdoor recreation across the state and expand Massachusetts’ recreation economy,” said Heather Clish, from the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Clish, AMC’s director of conservation and recreation policy, said she thinks not enough people are aware of the recreational opportunities available to them in Massachusetts. She said a dedicated state office could better coordinate regional and statewide marketing campaigns and could help boost communities in need of an economic jolt.

“Having an eye on the full suite of offerings, their integration with local communities and places where attention to rounding out or promoting what is offered could lift communities with much greater impact than is possible now,” she said.

About 60 percent of Massachusetts residents participate in one form of outdoor recreation or another and the industry is directly responsible for 120,000 jobs in Massachusetts, a 2017 report from the trade group Outdoor Industry Association found. Massachusetts consumers spend $16.2 billion annually on outdoor recreation and the industry generates more than $900 million in annual tax revenue for towns and the state.

Bruce Lessels, president of whitewater rafting and ziplining outfitters Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, said the proposed state office could also act as a public resource and information clearinghouse for outdoor recreation companies like his. He said there are between 1,000 and 2,000 people on the Deerfield River on a typical day, about 350 of them on trips with companies like Zoar and the rest “don’t really have any guidance.”

“The river needs a management plan in order to minimize negative impacts like trespassing, littering, alcohol and drug use, and to maximize positive impacts, like spending money in the area on food and lodging,” he said, adding that an Office of Outdoor Recreation could bring public and private stakeholders together to develop such a plan.

In addition to promoting outdoor recreation, the new office would also be tasked with ensuring that access to outdoor recreation opportunities is equitable. Clish said equitable access to the outdoors is crucial as science increasingly suggests health benefits can flow from time spent in nature.

“The body of evidence-based research on the health benefits of time spent out in the natural world is large and growing, including benefits for anxiety, depression, ADHD, diabetes, eyesight, immune function, life satisfaction, mortality and social connectedness,” she said.

The committee on Tuesday also heard testimony on a bill (H 821) Rep. Kathleen LaNatra filed to implement a requirement that operators of certain vessels complete a boating safety education course before taking to the waters.

“There are far too many inexperienced boaters on our waterways. I don’t know if any of you are boaters, but I grew up on a boat and I’ve seen many accidents, I’ve seen many drinking and driving on boats,” LaNatra, from Kingston, said. “It’s just so odd that you need a license to drive a vehicle, which has brakes, and you do not need one to drive a boat, which does not have brakes.”

Testifying alongside LaNatra in support of the bill was Weymouth Harbormaster Paul Milone, who said he has spoken in favor of mandatory boater education on Beacon Hill at least three or four times previously.

Milone said boater education courses are offered by harbormasters and other organizations, but estimated that those programs only reach about 8 to 10 percent of boaters -- “that’s because they want to learn more,” he said.

“You went to the boat show this last February, dropped $8,000 on a new 22-foot boat and you can go out there and do anything you want with it, not knowing anything about the waterways. And because of that, people die every year. They don’t know what they’re doing,” Milone said. “The people who don’t want to learn, they go out there and learn by error and mistakes. Mistakes can cause accidents and deaths. We’re trying to prevent that.”