FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2023
Caryn Shinske (609) 984-1795
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
Vincent Grassi (609) 984-1795
(23/P016) TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection is launching an online survey to identify how to best enhance and expand outdoor recreation and open space opportunities that focus on the needs of overburdened communities as part of the Outside, Together! initiative, Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today.
The survey results will help the DEP develop an action plan and funding priorities to expand high-quality open space and recreational opportunities in New Jersey. The plan will further equity and environmental justice, enhance climate resilience and sustainability, identify investments in ecotourism, as well as promote technology, stewardship and the conservation and restoration of biodiversity.
The online survey is being administered by The Trust for Public Land on behalf of the DEP. Survey responses will be accepted from Feb. 22 to March 22. It will be available in English, Spanish, and by request, other languages commonly spoken by New Jersey residents and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. The DEP designed the survey to engage overburdened communities, experienced outdoor users and anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors in New Jersey. For more information about Outside, Together! and to take the survey, visit https://dep.nj.gov/outside-together/survey/.
“Every resident of New Jersey deserves easy access to quality parks and open spaces where they can enjoy the environment we share,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “Through this Outside, Together! survey, my DEP colleagues and I hope to learn more from the public we serve about their outdoor needs. With the help of our Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, community leaders, and everyone who participates in this survey, DEP will build an outdoor recreation plan that better connects people to nature and one another.”
Survey participants will be asked about the importance of outdoor recreation and open space, their local needs, park features and amenities that are most important, obstacles to outdoor recreation, funding prioritization, climate resilience features to include in parks, and demographic questions.
As part of its outreach efforts, the DEP formed a 24-member Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, chaired by Elizabeth Dragon, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Community Investment and Economic Revitalization, tasked with developing the initiative’s principles, discussing outreach efforts and reviewing the survey questions. Data from the survey’s findings will help inform new funding policies and acquisition prioritization used by DEP programs such as Green Acres, NJ Fish and Wildlife, and Parks, Forests & Historic Sites.
“The Outside, Together! survey is important for all residents to take because it will result in a framework and funding priorities for developing parks and preserving open space, with an emphasis on overburdened communities.” said Assistant Commissioner Dragon. “We need everyone’s input to let us know where they value investments in our outdoor spaces.”
The DEP’s Community Investment and Economic Revitalization Program regularly met with the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee between September and December 2022 to discuss the initiative’s principles for preparation of the survey questions.
On Earth Day 2022, Commissioner LaTourette signed an Administrative Order to update the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) for 2023-2027, which is a condition of eligibility for the state to receive National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund assistance. New Jersey’s SCORP must identify statewide recreation needs and opportunities and articulate a comprehensive strategy.
The Outside, Together! initiative, which is deeply rooted in public and stakeholder engagement, is New Jersey’s SCORP update and will be finalized by December 2023 for submission to the National Park Service. The survey is one part of the process to advance a five-year plan to set open space, parkland, outdoor equity and funding priorities to best serve the recreation and conservation needs of all New Jersey residents.
“Parks and open spaces provide critical public benefits, from strengthening social and cultural connections to helping communities adapt to climate impacts, and it's essential these spaces reflect the needs and desires of all New Jerseyans,” said Scott Dvorak, Associate Vice President and New Jersey State Director for The Trust for Public Land. “Trust for Public Land is proud to further the mission of Outside, Together! with our data gathering expertise and commitment to public engagement to ensure everyone is connected to the outdoors.”
The survey will be promoted through Governor Murphy’s statewide update email, the Nextdoor social media application, DEP’s social media channels, DEP listservs, the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee members, and the New Jersey State Public Library newsletter and will reach millions of New Jersey residents.
With the help of its partners, the DEP will continue to develop its update to the SCORP to establish and clarify the state’s policies, benchmarks and recommended actions to ensure fairer and more equitable distribution of outdoor recreation and conservation funds and resources.
Public parks and open space provide New Jerseyans with areas they can go to celebrate special occasions, enjoy nature and relax. The DEP is committed to partnering with local governments and nonprofit organizations to expand the amount of and access to open space and recreation land. In addition to the survey, TPL will host multiple focus groups to hear from overburdened and historically underrepresented communities.
Members of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee include representatives from state agencies, chambers of commerce, conservation organizations, environmental justice organizations, business organizations, academic institutions, and county and local park stewards. Through ongoing outreach efforts, committee members seek to increase public awareness and ensure New Jerseyans’ recreation needs are met.
“The pandemic helped to reveal more than ever the tremendous power and benefits of being outdoors - physical and mental wellness benefits that should be accessible to everyone,” said Juan Melli, Board Member of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and Team Wilderness. “I applaud the Murphy Administration and NJDEP for leading an inclusive process that seeks the voices, experiences, and input from all corners of New Jersey's diverse community.”
“New Jersey is an incredible place to live, work and play. We have challenges as the most densely populated and one of the most diverse states in the nation facing the increasingly intense climate crisis impacts,” said Jennifer M. Coffey, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. “The Outside, Together! initiative is leveraging public input to build a better plan that creates more equitable access to open spaces that better meet current and future needs.”
“This survey will help drive open space investment in New Jersey over the next five years,” said Jay Watson, Co-Executive Director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “In order to make sure that resources are available and equitably distributed to every community, every voice needs to be heard. This is an incredible opportunity to make sure that we provide quality outdoor spaces and fair investment decisions across New Jersey, and we hope that people will step up and be heard.”
“The NJDEP provided an exceptional platform for a more dynamic consideration of the usual five-year update of the SCORP. Rather than the tired old statistical and service updates, the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee embraced the opportunity to extend outreach to not only to the usual public recreation agencies but sought the engagement of individuals and groups in underserved communities not previously represented,” said Bill Foelsch of the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association. “Issues of service equity were closely examined that gave us a sharper focus on non-traditional outdoor recreation needs for densely populated urban areas, and the demands for more close-to-home outdoor recreation opportunities. Outside, Together! has become a national model of engagement for these required studies to qualify for key federal funding.”
“One lesson that was reinforced during the Covid pandemic is the significant public health benefit of having quality outdoor recreational experiences available to all New Jersey residents,” said Dennis Toft, Board Member of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce and Environmental Attorney with Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi. “Serving on the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee provided me the opportunity to learn from others and share my experiences and suggestions about how to make our outdoor areas even better. I hope everyone joins in this effort.”
“The Nature Conservancy is excited to be among the organizations providing input to this important process. We are thankful that NJDEP has designed an open, collaborative process to include the community in the Outside, Together! planning,” said Tricia Aspinwall, Land Conservation Manager at the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “We’re confident this process to identify shared priorities will align state conservation and recreation organizations to work together to protect the most important open spaces and provide equitable recreation opportunities. We look forward to taking this plan to action and partnering with NJDEP and others on the implementation of the SCORP priorities because the time is now to preserve our most important, remaining natural lands and make our open space accessible to all.”
Outside, Together! objectives include:
To learn more about Outside, Together! visit https://dep.nj.gov/outside-together/.
For questions about Outside, Together! or the survey, please contact us at Outside.Together@dep.nj.gov.