Charging ahead on outdoor recreation

  • An owl on Mt. Toby, one of the great outdoor recreation areas in western Massachusetts. file photo

Published: 2/9/2019 5:10:00 PM
Modified: 2/9/2019 5:10:01 PM

Franklin County and the North Quabbin area constitute an outdoor recreation mecca. We’ve got it all: whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, recreational cycling, mountain biking, fishing, ziplining and other activities that make us a tourism destination.

“It’s hard not to say nature and access to nature is one of our assets,” state Sen. Adam Hinds said a year ago, speaking to nearly 120 Franklin County Chamber of Commerce members. The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, the Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon and the Athol-to-Orange River Rat Race are just three examples of world-class events that capitalize on our area’s unique natural resources.

Getting the word out has always been our challenge; Western Massachusetts has long been outspent by neighboring New York State and Vermont in promoting itself to visitors. Now, however, the area is poised to capitalize on its resources with Hinds’ proposal for a statewide Office of Outdoor Recreation. The new office would “streamline” the promotion of outdoor activities in the state, Hinds said last week. According to his proposal, the office would promote and market outdoor recreational activities of the commonwealth to the public, support economic development and improve the quality of life, health and well-being of residents in the commonwealth.

Hinds is joined by 18 co-signers of the petition from legislative districts across the commonwealth, increasing its chances for success. Prominent among the supporters are state Rep. Natalie M. Blais, 1st Franklin District, and state Sen. Anne M. Gobi, for Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex District.

Blais, too, has long extolled the region’s natural assets, dating back to when she was the economic development specialist and communications director for congressmen John Olver and James McGovern. When, in 2017, Blais was chosen to lead the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, she said she looked forward to helping bolster the region’s tourism industry. Less than a year later, Blais won election to the seat of retired Rep. Stephen Kulik and since then has lost no time fulfilling that goal.

“A big part of it is building awareness,” said Blais, and that would be the duty of the new office, which would hire a director and expend funds appropriated by the general court for purposes of carrying out its mission.

With the creation of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, Massachusetts would be in a position to level the playing field when it comes to singing the praises of our outdoor amenities while collaborating with outdoor recreation offices in neighboring states.

Outdoor recreation is already an important slice of tourism in the region; “It’s a big part of our economy,” said Blais last year, pointing to $61 million it brought the county in 2014, with an $11 million payroll. It can get much bigger and this new office is just what is needed to develop the region’s potential in a coordinated way. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has declined to comment on the petition’s prospects, as the legislation is pending. We commend Hinds and his supporters for submitting this petition and we urge its passage by the legislature, not just for our region, but for the good of whole state.

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