NEW JERSEY – To expand upon the Murphy Administration’s historic investments in local parks, open space and natural resource restoration, the Department of Environmental Protection is launching Outside, Together!, a recreational initiative that will bring the public, local leaders, conservation organizations and ecotourism industry together to produce a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, according to Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette.
To mark the importance of this work, Commissioner LaTourette issued an Administrative Order to update the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), which sets the state’s priorities for, and access to, parklands and open space. That update will be the Outside, Together! planning initiative.
The DEP is taking a new approach to updating its SCORP, a recurring requirement to remain eligible for National Park Service funding. Outside, Together! will have deep and robust public engagement, and reform funding policies and protocols for prioritizing land acquisitions. Those reforms are expected to ensure fairer and more equitable distribution of recreation and conservation funds. The announcement of this initiative ties in with this year’s Earth Day global theme of Invest In Our Planet.
“The Outside, Together! plan will give us an opportunity to ensure that our communities have equitable access to the benefits of New Jersey’s natural resources,” said Governor Murphy. “This initiative is especially imperative as we continue to assess how climate change will impact recreational activities, as well as the future of our natural resources. I look forward to expanding our investments in local parks, open space and natural resource restoration to best serve all of our New Jersey residents.”
Earlier this year, DEP established the Community Investment and Economic Revitalization Program, recognizing that the work of the department sits at the intersection of environmental, social and economic improvement. A main function of the program is to strengthen investments in natural capital that can enhance quality of life for all New Jerseyans. It is through this new program that DEP is taking a new approach to updating the SCORP.
“Every New Jersey community should have quality equipment, amenities and opportunities for families and children to enjoy the outdoors,” LaTourette said. “Outside, Together! is DEP’s pledge to the public that their input is essential in creating a blueprint that enhances and ensures fair and equitable recreation and conservation practices statewide.”
Within the Administrative Order issued today, Commissioner LaTourette charged an Advisory Committee to partner with DEP and engage the public on six core principles for Outside, Together!:
- Expanding high-quality open space and recreational opportunities for all New Jerseyans;
- Enhancing climate resilience and sustainability through acquisition and development;
- Empowering communities through investment in ecotourism and outdoor recreation;
- Embracing the role of technology in conservation and outdoor recreation;
- Furthering equity and environmental justice through outdoor recreation; and
- Continuing the commitment to stewardship and the conservation and restoration of biodiversity.
Beginning this summer, and into next spring, multiple opportunities for engagement will allow DEP to set priorities, determine action to optimize access to open space and parklands and help ensure that the state’s recreational investments are consistent with the Murphy Administration’s environmental, climate, equity and economic goals. Some of the actions that the Advisory Committee will engage in include:
- Educating the public about open space and outdoor recreation opportunities statewide, and how they may improve health and wellness in overburdened communities;
- Enhancing the economic benefits of preservation, including those addressing climate resilience and sustainability, ecotourism and biodiversity;
- Providing multiple opportunities for the public and key partners to offer input on outdoor recreation needs and goals through surveys as well as public informational listening sessions;
- Identifying policy, regulatory and/or legislative actions to advance open space and outdoor recreation goals.
DEP will issue a solicitation in coming weeks to hire a consultant to work with the Advisory Committee on Outside, Together! plan development. DEP has secured a National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund SCORP Planning Grant to offset a portion of the cost.
Advisory Committee members will include DEP’s assistant commissioners from the Community Investment and Economic Revitalization, Fish & Wildlife, and Parks, Forests & Historic Sites programs as well as representatives of environmental advocacy organizations, environmental justice advocates, economic development entities and other community groups.
“ANJEC is excited to partner with the DEP and celebrate the launch of Outside, Together!,” said Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. “Access to high quality open spaces is a right that belongs to every New Jersey resident, and this project brings improved equitable access to open spaces, particularly in communities that do not already benefit from preserved spaces and wild places. We know that high quality open spaces are essential to enhancing our resiliency to the impacts of the climate crisis and provide economic benefit by stabilizing taxes and increasing surrounding home values.”
“Interaction is the gateway to understanding,” said Marcus Sibley, NJ NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Chairman. “There have been longstanding barriers to access and inclusion in our outdoor recreational spaces, therefore we’re supportive of initiatives such as ‘Outside, Together!’ due to the possibilities for growth, progress and healing when we’re all outside, together.”
“Protection of parks, lands and wildlife is an integral part of the Sierra Club, which is why we are very excited about DEP’s ‘Outside, Together!’ initiative,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Director of the Sierra Club. “New Jersey is one of the most unique places in the country. From the Highlands to the Pinelands, to the beautiful beaches of Sandy Hook to the massive Lake Hopatcong. These types of areas need to move forward with appropriate growth and development and utilize their historic eco-tourism potential. At the same time, they need to be resilient to climate impacts. More importantly, open space, parks and historic sites must be accessible to all, especially in urban areas.”
The Advisory Committee is expected to convene in June and begin doing research and surveys this summer. Stakeholder engagement is tentatively planned to begin this fall, with a draft plan developed in early 2023. The plan could be ready for public review as early as spring 2023 and finalized that summer.
To learn more about Outside, Together! and view a copy of the Administrative Order, click here.