Next session will take place Thursday, Feb. 28, at Narragansett Community Center
PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will host the last two in a series of community listening sessions 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:
Thursday, February 28 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Narragansett Community Center 53 Mumford Road, Narragansett
Monday, March 4 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Town Beach and Sports Complex 50 Asylum Road, Bristol
At the listening session held yesterday at Lincoln Woods State Park, members of the public asked about repair work that's needed on a section of the Blackstone River Bikeway and how to ease summertime congestion at Lincoln Woods. Only a 20-minute drive from Providence, it attracts the third-most annual visitors (1.2 million) of any state park and is Rhode Island's oldest state park. Two local rock climbers who are affiliated with Access Fund, a national advocacy group whose mission is to keep climbing areas open, discussed the possibility of developing a stewardship plan to sustainably manage impacts, thus keeping Lincoln Woods attractive to climbers. Lincoln Woods is a hot spot for climbers because of its variety of climbs (mostly glacial boulders), it's free, and it's accessible. Climbers are concerned about accessibility, the health of outdoor landscapes, and controlling erosion from heavy use.
On February 20, DEM hosted a listening session in Westerly with more than 30 people attending. Traffic and trash were very much on the minds of residents. DEM Director Janet Coit told attendees that DEM is working on a plan to reduce backups into and out of the parking lots at Misquamicut State Beach and will continue to work closely with the Westerly Police Department and Misquamicut Business Association. Coit noted that season passes will be available for purchase online this year, which could help with traffic flow problems. Regarding comments about litter and plastic waste, Coit said that DEM will not be giving plastic trash bags out at Misquamicut this year but noted that carry-in/carry-out remains an important program to help reduce litter and educate the public about conservation. Several individuals attending the Westerly session supported the small fee increases DEM has proposed and many suggested raising the fees further.
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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