As 2022 state legislative sessions wrap up and we reflect on major policy wins across the U.S., The Great Maryland Outdoors Act is a clear standout. OIA staff connected with Daryl Anthony, executive director of the Maryland Office of Outdoor Recreation, and western region manager Christy Bright at the Maryland Park Service, to learn more about the positive impacts this bill will have on Maryland’s outdoors, its citizens, and the state’s outdoor economy.
Like many other states, Maryland’s park system saw a marked increase in traffic across its 77 units throughout the pandemic. Much of the increase in visitation was experienced in regions most accessible to nearby major metropolitan areas and in neighboring states. Alongside increased traffic came escalated stress on the resources of the Maryland Park Service. Equity and access concerns for underserved communities also became a greater priority. These conditions sparked discussion on how to address these new challenges. The result? The Great Maryland Outdoors Act.
This act is an instructional example of collaboration between bipartisan lawmakers, state institutions, and other stakeholders working together to understand the needs of the Maryland Park Service, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and their employees. According to Executive Director Anthony, the Great Maryland Outdoors Act is “geared toward advancing operations and capability of the Maryland Park Service.” These targeted investments will address specific resource shortages and will enhance the capacity of the DNR and its departments.
Here are some of the components of the act:
- The act increases the number of permanent employees in the Department of Natural Resources, which will add institutional capacity to address challenges affiliated with increased visitation, safety, and aging infrastructure.
- The state’s Critical Maintenance Fund will receive an additional $70 million to address state park maintenance needs. These funds and the work they enable should positively impact the outdoor recreation industry across the state by updating infrastructure in and around recreation amenities.
- The Park System Capital Improvement and Acquisition Fund established in the act will allow the state to acquire additional land for state parks. Further development of outdoor amenities will alleviate overcrowding and access issues. Part of the funding allotted in the fund must also go toward climate change mitigation infrastructure projects.
- The act also establishes a Parks and Recreation Commission, which will oversee the Maryland Park Service. The commission will have representation from the legislature, appointees from the executive branch, Maryland citizens, and members specifically focused on environmental justice and sustainable communities.
- The creation of the $3 million Great Maryland Outdoors Fund directly applies to Maryland’s Office of Outdoor Recreation. The fund will be used to implement recommendations from the Maryland Outdoor Recreation Economic Commission. The monies may also be applied toward department projects and programs that “provide, promote, and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in the State.” Some funding is also allotted to the marketing and promotion of state parks.
- Finally, the Great Maryland Outdoors Act establishes that the DNR work with the state’s Department of Labor to identify opportunities to create registered apprenticeship programs “to help address workforce shortages and the career workforce needs of DNR.”
These sizable investments will result in a triple-bottom-line return for the state by imparting direct positive impacts on the health and wellness of the state’s citizens and the health of the environment, and they will enable further development of an outdoor recreation economy that already provides Maryland $5.5 billion in value-added to the state’s economy annually while supplying approximately 69,337 jobs for residents. Executive Director Anthony noted that the act reflected a host of favorable conditions developing in the right place at the right time, including a partnership with the state’s executive branch. “Governor Hogan recognizes the value of outdoor recreation and the need to have this opportunity available for the citizens of Maryland for their overall quality of life,” said Anthony.
After this significant policy victory, what’s next? Both Executive Director Anthony and Western Region Manager Bright say there are other needs and opportunities they will be focused on: growing public and private investment in green technologies to improve access, updating recreation amenities like campgrounds, and further improving the user experience. Finally, Bright points out that the vitality of the outdoor economy and Marylanders themselves rely on the health of the natural assets across the state. Traditional conservation efforts are still front-of-mind for the DNR, including a continued focus on the protection of the Chesapeake Bay.
We at OIA are big fans of the Great Maryland Outdoors Act. State parks across the country are chronically underfunded even while seeing notable traffic increases. Our industry can utilize our collective voice to address this issue over the coming years.
Ready to learn how you can advocate on behalf of increased investment in parks, green infrastructure, and recreation amenities? Contact Rebecca Gillis, OIA’s State and Local Government Affairs Manager, to learn more about the tools OIA offers to our members to step up and call on elected officials to strengthen the outdoors and outdoor economy.