PROVIDENCE – Governor Lincoln Chafee and Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit today awarded $3.85 million in local open space matching grants to 15 communities, land trusts and conservation organizations that will protect 1,193 acres of open space and farmland throughout the state. A number of state and municipal officials and representatives of land trusts and non-profit organizations attended the event in the Governor's State Room.
"I am proud that we will be preserving these beautiful spaces for Rhode Islanders to enjoy for generations to come," Governor Chafee said. "Rhode Island is fortunate to enjoy unparalleled natural beauty. These grants will help us preserve and protect precious open space and farmland, and will also benefit our tourism industry, which is one of our state's key economic assets."
"By protecting the forests, farms, shorelines and open spaces that dot the Rhode Island landscape, we are enhancing the state's tourist economy by preserving lands that will be enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors each year," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "These grants are an important investment in the future of our beautiful state, and represent another milestone in our efforts to help protect and preserve Rhode Island's open spaces and natural heritage."
Funding comes from the 2008 and 2012 Open Space Bond Authorizations, overwhelmingly approved by Rhode Island voters. The state grants will be matched by local bond funds and federal grants to generate over $11.6 million in land preservation throughout Rhode Island. The awards will protect such diverse and important resources as a 50-acre parcel of undisturbed forested land in Lincoln, adding to the publicly-owned Handy Pond Conservation Area; 34.8 acres of farmland at the historically scenic Dawson family farm in Little Compton, which lies within an extensive network of protected open space; and 22.7 acres of forest and open meadow within the Narrow River Watershed in South Kingstown, which provide habitat for the bald eagle, eastern box turtle and various species of birds. Many of the properties are located in or adjacent to planned greenways and other protected lands throughout the state.
The grants provide up to 50 percent of funding, up to a maximum of $400,000, to preserve open space lands that possess significant natural, ecological, agricultural or scenic values, by direct purchase or conservation easements. Special consideration was given to projects that provide linkages between or expansion of existing preserved lands.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said, "I am very proud that the City of Warwick has received two grants which will enable us to preserve a total of nine acres of beautiful open space where plants and native vegetation can grow and birds and wildlife can flourish. My administration is deeply committed to forever protecting our scenic natural resources, and these funds will enable us to build upon the momentum we've gained. I would like to thank the members of the Warwick Land Trust for their hard work in bringing us to where we stand today and for their commitment to improving the quality of life in our City."
DEM received 22 applications for the current round of grants, which were reviewed and ranked by the Natural Heritage Preservation Advisory Committee with final awards made by the State Natural Heritage Preservation Commission. The Commission then recommended awards to DEM Director Janet Coit for review and approval. DEM is administering the grants.
Over the years these grant programs have not only resulted in the protection of hundreds of worthwhile projects – places used by residents and tourists alike for outdoor recreation – but have also contributed to the economic health of the state. Since January 2011 when Governor Lincoln Chafee took office, 71 land preservation projects have been completed with 5,013 acres of open space and farmland protected. These natural assets play a big role in the state's tourist economy by providing opportunities for the public to camp, fish, hunt, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors, and at the same time bring revenue to the local economy. According to the most recent statistics from the US Fish & Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (2011), residents and tourists spend over $360 million annually in Rhode Island on trip and equipment-related expenditures for fishing, hunting, and wildlife-watching activities.