The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is steward to over 450,000 acres of forests, parks, greenways, historic sites, seashores, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and watersheds; making it one of the largest state park systems in the country. Considering the population and relatively small size of the Commonwealth, it’s astonishing just how much open space and recreational opportunities are at our fingertips.
At the heart of DCR’s mission to “protect, promote, and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources,” lies its ability to generate comprehensive, forward-looking management plans for each property it owns. Planning efforts for the park system commonly identify a lack of information on the aforementioned park resources. Typically these data gaps are identified by DCR planning staff and recommendations are made to gather information; however, the agency frequently lacks the necessary resources to fill them.
This reoccurring theme has become the seed for an interesting research project investigating the potential for strategic collaboration between DCR and academia to fill these data gaps. There are over 110 colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, several of which offer courses and degrees in subject areas directly relevant to park planning, operations, and marketing, yet very few institutions have established relationships with DCR over the years. A formal, system-wide program designed to facilitate ongoing uses of DCR properties by institutions of higher education has the potential to both enhance education in the state, while simultaneously providing important information that will improve the overall management of the Commonwealth’s park system.
If you know of any colleges or universities that currently use state parks for educational, cultural, or recreational purposes, or simply want to weigh in on the conversation, contact Jason Hill at the Urban Initiative.