Study recommends long-term investment to improve R.I. park system

PROVIDENCE – A “strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential” of the state’s park system is needed, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management said on Jan. 14, citing conclusions of a new study on ways to modernize the parks.

According to DEM, the state’s park system attracts more than 9 million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year, while adding $315 million to the economy, generating $40 million in state and local taxes, and supporting 4,000 jobs.

However, DEM said budget and staffing cuts to its Parks and Recreation Division, combined with “increasing visitor use, longer seasons, aging facilities and expanded responsibilities have hindered DEM’s ability to meet some park users’ expectations.”

The National Association of State Park Directors says Rhode Island ranks first in visits per park acre in the nation but No. 47 in state spending per visit.

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The 112-page report was developed with the help of two private firms. It recommends DEM establish new pricing and fee-setting policies for special events, site rentals and special uses based on market value, cost of service and classification of service.