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DEEP Releases 2024-2029 Draft Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced that it is releasing a draft of its 2024-2029 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), which lays out a 5-year strategy to continue to build on Connecticut’s outdoor recreation landscape. The draft plan is available for public review and comment through December 15, 2023.

The public outreach included in the development of the SCORP enables DEEP to interact directly with visitors to learn about their experiences in state parks and evaluate how the State allocates resources. The SCORP is important not only to DEEP, but also to municipalities and non-governmental organizations that also use the SCORP when applying for state and federal grants, including the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program for the acquisition and development of park and recreation lands.

The SCORP will guide DEEP’s priorities over the next five years as we continue working to provide equitable access to outdoor recreation.

“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,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP Commissioner. “We want to ensure that all visitors to our recreational spaces feel welcome, safe, and enjoy themselves. Climate change is also impacting outdoor recreation, so we encourage feedback from the various group of recreationalists who are our partners in ensuring the long-term protection of our outstanding natural and cultural resources that are threatened by climate change.”

Connecticut’s outdoor recreation economy is one of the largest in New England, drives tourism, and makes Connecticut an attractive place to live, work and play. Demand for outdoor recreation has increased dramatically since the pandemic – annual visitation to Connecticut State Parks and Forests increased to an estimated 17 million in 2022 – increasing 75% from pre-pandemic visitation levels of between 9 and 10 million in 2019.

In addition to increasing visitor numbers, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reported in 2022 that outdoor recreation supported almost five million jobs and added over $1.1 trillion to the national economy. Here in Connecticut, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, activities like climbing, hiking, and tent camping increased by 40% between 2019 and 2022, indicating diverse participation. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand the needs and habits of diverse user groups, including newer outdoor enthusiasts now active since the pandemic.

The draft 2024-2029 SCORP includes three key goals and action items representing a commitment by DEEP to continue being responsive to the recreation needs of Connecticut’s residents while responsibly managing the available resources to realize the greatest return on investments made to the outdoor recreation system. The three goals include:

  • Provide equitable and sustainable access to outdoor recreation in Connecticut.
  • Enhance visitor experience and tourism by providing welcoming, safe, and well-maintained outdoor recreation areas and recreation amenities.
  • Address the threats of climate change on outdoor recreation and the conservation of natural, historic, and cultural resources by working together with outdoor recreation participants to implement strategies for habitat preservation, conservation, decarbonization, climate change mitigation, adaptation resilience, and education.

In developing the draft plan, DEEP established a SCORP Advisory Committee of individuals representing diverse outdoor recreation interests and perspectives from across the state.

Additionally, DEEP partnered with the Center for Community Engagement and Social Research (CCESR) at Central Connecticut State University to seek substantial input from Connecticut’s residents. The CCESR outreach included park and outdoor recreation stakeholders in a variety of ways, including several online and in-person surveys and multiple focus groups. Southern Connecticut State University Department of Recreation, Tourism & Sport Management provided invaluable assistance with strategic plan development and drafting the plan.

In addition to its value as a planning document, DEEP produces a SCORP to help meet the requirements of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a funding source the department uses for the development of park and recreation lands. The LWCF requires each participating state to complete a comprehensive outdoor recreation plan every five years to ensure wise use of grant funds. To be eligible for funding, DEEP must submit its final 2024-2029 SCORP to the National Park Service by Dec. 31, 2023

The draft report can be found on the DEEP website at www.ct.gov/deep/scorp

DEEP and our academic partners will continue to edit and incorporate feedback into the plan before sending the plan to the National Park Service by the end of the year. Once approved by the National Park Service, the final plan will be released publicly in 2024.

The agency will accept comments on the draft plan through December 15, 2023. Feedback submission options include: email to deep.scorp@ct.gov, or mail to DEEP SCORP c/o Akiebia Hicks, Project Manager, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, 79 Elm Street Hartford, CT 06106.

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