Deadline looms for public input on open space, recreational areas in state

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PITTSFIELD — From the Berkshires to Cape Cod, municipalities and residents have two days left to help the state secure federal money toward preserving and improving open space and recreational areas across Massachusetts.

Friday is the deadline for cities, towns, land trusts and recreational users to fill out a 10- to 15-minute online survey; the public input used in shaping the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. SCORP is revised every five years to keep the commonwealth eligible for funding from the National Park Service's Land and Water Conservation Fund grant program.

"We like a wide variety of public input," said Melissa Cryan, the Land and Water Conservation Fund coordinator for the state's Executive Office of Energy and Conservation.

The National Park Service will review and sign off on the state plan due by Nov. 1.

Lauren Gaherty took the time to give her two cents' worth answering the 30-plus survey questions.

"I like to hike, fish and go boating, so I want my voice heard," said Gaherty, senior planner for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created in 1964, is paid for through earnings "from offshore oil and gas leasing to help strengthen communities, preserve our history and protect our national endowment of lands and waters," according to the National Park Service website.

In 2016 and this year, the state received an average of $2 million from the National Park Service program, with the state planning for another round of funding in 2018, according to Cryan.

She says her agency is reviewing 21 applications seeking the 2017 funding — none from Berkshire County. Municipalities and state agencies such as the Department of Conservation and Recreation are the only eligible applicants.

"The money is not only for land trusts acquiring land, but building new parks, updating existing parks and creating other recreational uses," Cryan noted.

In the 2012 survey, respondents made more and improved trails a top priority, along with an increase in local recreation. Cryan and Gaherty expect similar responses from the current questionnaires.

"A lot more people want to go out the door to a greenway, or a bike path. They want recreation closer to home," Gaherty said.

A Berkshire Regional Planning Commission report in 2014 found that the county has 33 percent of its land permanently protected by landowners. This excludes lakes and other large bodies of water not within a larger parcel of property.

Nearly two-thirds of the conserved/recreational land is state-owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and Division of Fisheries and Wildlife; 12 percent is under private ownership and 10.5 percent belongs to the Berkshires' 32 cities and towns.

Gaherty noted that the public can legally access 80 percent of the county's protected properties. The majority of the 20 percent restricted acreage is farmland and other active agricultural lands.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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