The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has announced the start of a 30-day public comment period for the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) for New Jersey. The SCORP, updated through the department’s Outside, Together! initiative, aims to enhance and provide equitable outdoor recreation and conservation opportunities throughout the State and ensure a sustainable future for New Jersey’s natural resources.
To enhance public engagement in this process, the DEP launched the Outside, Together! initiative through an Administrative Order on Earth Day in 2022. The initiative is a collaborative effort of the DEP’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee and relies on robust community involvement. Outside, Together! aims to ensure fairer and more equitable distribution of outdoor recreation and conservation funds and resources, advance climate resilience and environmental justice, support communities’ ecotourism, and embrace technology while also promoting stewardship and the conservation and restoration of biodiversity.
Hopewell Township resident Renata Barnes, who is a member of the DEP’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee said: “This initiative has been a great opportunity to discuss the realities that lack of access creates for emerging communities, particularly in urban areas. Health disparities and societal and environmental disconnection all have long and short-term effects for those who are most vulnerable. Refocusing on open space and broadening where it is and what it means, is paramount in the mission of everyone outside together. Presenting a diverse picture of what recreation is, as well, was one of the things the committee is working on. Beyond ball courts and fields, there is an eye to more deliberate environmentally sensitive, and culturally diverse recreation spaces. “
Barnes is on the also the Director of Programs and Community Engagement of the Mercer County-based Outdoor Equity Alliance, an organization that creates opportunities to connect people with nature, mainly through internships in which local youth learn about environment careers and avocations in the green sector.
The SCORP is available for review on the DEP’s website Feedback can be submitted online at dep.nj.gov/outside-together/comment/ or via email to [email protected]. The public comment period will run for 30 days, ending October 18. The DEP will review the comments and incorporate them into a final Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan that will be used to set open space and recreation priorities for New Jersey.
The New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan is prepared every five years by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program to maintain New Jersey’s eligibility to receive funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service. More broadly, the plan serves as the state’s strategic plan to allocate funding for open space preservation and recreation projects.
“The DEP is committed to working with the public and our stakeholders to expand access to high-quality open space so that everyone has an opportunity to partake in the healthy, restorative and educational benefits of outdoor recreation,” said Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette. “The importance of community and public engagement in accomplishing this goal cannot be overstated. This is your chance to help shape the opportunities for outdoor recreation and conservation that are so important to all of us.”
This past February, the DEP launched an online survey to identify how to best enhance and expand outdoor recreation and open space opportunities that focus on the needs of the public, especially those in overburdened communities. The survey closed on March 22 and 15,000 responses were received. The survey showed that most residents place a high priority on outdoor recreation.
Some 75 percent indicated they visit local, city and county parks. Hiking/walking and gathering with family and friends were among the highest priorities for them and the most important outdoor amenity features are trails, sitting areas, picnic areas, and playgrounds.