Massachusetts is dead last for trails, open spaces, Mass. Audubon wants $1 billion to fix

It may surprise residents of the commonwealth, so often found at the top of “best” lists of one kind or another, to learn that Bay State comes in dead last in one regard.

“Massachusetts ranks 50th out of the 50 states when it comes to the amount of open space and trails,” Michelle Manion, the Mass Audubon’s vice president of policy and advocacy, told the Herald. “It’s really not normal for our state to be last in something.”

For that reason, Manion said, her environmental advocacy group — along with members of the Mass Rivers Alliance, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, and Mass Land Trust Coalition — descended on Beacon Hill Tuesday and Wednesday to demand lawmakers do something about the fact our state ranks so poorly when it comes to usable public nature spaces and invest $1 billion on solutions.

Well, that’s not the only reason, she said.

“With state tax revenues at an all time high there has never been a better time for this kind of investment,” she said.

There’s also the fact that in 2021 President Biden signed the $1.7 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Those funds, Manion said, are up for the grabbing by state’s that apply, but only while the grabbing is good.

“These are one time funds that won’t last forever, so let’s use them on a down payment that would return on investment like no other,” she said.

Manion has some backing on her assertion.

The Trust for Public Land, another conservation group, conducted a study on the return on investment through conservation of open spaces in Massachusetts and found that every $1 investment returned $4 to the state economy.

A focus of the investments sought now, Manion said, will be on lower income communities.

“Low income families have roughly 40 to 50 percent less access to nature and open spaces than families form wealthy communities,” Manion said. “Generally, the only funding that comes for open space comes at the town level, and the only towns that can do that are the wealthy towns, which already have an advantage.”

If lawmakers are going to do something with federal money, they may need to get moving. ARPA funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024, and any money unspent by December 31, 2026, is subject to recapture by the federal government.

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