PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will host a series of community listening sessions across Rhode Island beginning tomorrow to solicit ideas on how to improve the State Parks System. The sessions offer an opportunity for Rhode Islanders to learn more about Governor Gina Raimondo's and DEM's initiative to invest in Rhode Island's beloved parks and beaches – which, according to a recent study, rank 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit.
Sessions will be held as follows:
Wednesday, February 20
4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Westerly Town Hall Council Chambers
45 Broad Street, Westerly
Monday, February 25
4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Lincoln Woods Nature Center
Lincoln Woods State Park, Lincoln
Thursday, February 28
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Narragansett Community Center
53 Mumford Road, Narragansett
A fourth session will be held in Bristol, with details to be announced.
At these meetings, DEM will describe the challenges of running more than 65 unique recreational areas with minimal staff, outline the possibilities of adding services through new investment, and listen to Rhode Islanders' comments and concerns.
Rhode Island's natural and public assets – including 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, 25 parks, management areas, and nature preserves, and eight saltwater beaches – are magnets, attracting more than 9 million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They're also an engine that add an estimated $315 million to the economy, generating nearly $40 million in state and local taxes and supporting nearly 4,000 jobs a year. However, more visitors (a 37% increase in beach visitation from 2010 to 2017), far fewer employees (full-time staffing in DEM's Parks and Recreation Division has dropped by 67%, to 42 FTEs from 123, since 1989), longer seasons, and aging facilities are hindering DEM's ability to meet some park users' expectations.
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