Empire State Trail

The Open Space Institute and the New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition Unveil ‘Open Spaces for All’ Plan

Image Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

NEW YORK, NY (Oct. 5, 2022)—The Open Space Institute (OSI), in partnership with the New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition (NYORC), today unveiled a new, statewide plan to make millions of acres of parks and open spaces more welcoming and accessible for New Yorkers and visitors. (Lea el comunicado de prensa en español aquí.)

Developed over a two-year research, planning, and stakeholder engagement process, Open Spaces for All identifies structural and societal barriers that prevent New Yorkers from fully enjoying and accessing public parks, open spaces, and other outdoor amenities.

The plan presents recommendations to guide future policies, programs, initiatives, and creative partnerships, in order to engage and support a growing and increasingly diverse constituency of open space users.

Open Spaces for All

Let’s make access to New York’s open spaces equitable, together.

Read the full report

The plan highlights the following recommendations that are critical to building a more equitable and inclusive future for all residents and visitors across New York State:

  • Engage and empower communities and community partners. Open Spaces for All found that communities want to be greater participants in developing solutions that articulate their specific needs, directly address barriers, and improve their experiences in outdoor spaces. The plan proposes opportunities to better reach, empower, and build trust with communities, especially those that are underrepresented and historically disadvantaged.
  • Prioritize equity at the forefront of future park and open space investments. New York’s open spaces and associated infrastructure need to evolve to support an increasingly diverse visitation demographic and facilitate greater access, relevancy, and safety for all. This plan provides guidance on how to embed equity and universal access into park, trail, and open space development. It proposes greater investments in the revitalization and creation of open spaces within communities; development of welcoming and accessible infrastructure; and creation of measures to reduce barriers to participation and to expand relevancy for users.
Whitewater Rafting11 Image Credit: Photo courtesy of SUNY Potsdam Live Now
  • Build support and capacity for implementation. As New York expands its services and builds partnerships to reach and support new visitors, it will require greater capacity and operational support to effectively deliver and grow this work. The plan recommends opportunities to cultivate diverse partnerships, enhance existing opportunities and identify new ones, promote more equitable funding and financial support, increase capacity, and cultivate a diverse workforce and culture of inclusion.
  • Honoring Indigenous People and Their Connections to the Land. Open Spaces for All also includes recommendations specific to Indigenous people and lands in New York to recognize the unique historical, cultural, and diplomatic circumstances that Native communities and nations face.

“With Open Spaces for All, OSI hopes to highlight and support changes that ensure all people in New York have equitable access to the outdoors,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of OSI. “And while state agencies have taken important first steps to better accommodate and welcome a broad range of visitors, more must be done. This report serves as a blueprint to center investments in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice as critical to the future success of New York’s open spaces.”

Open Spaces for All is charting a course for our country that considers sustainability of our public lands as a matter of both infrastructure and equitable access to the outdoors. At REI we believe a life outside is a life well lived, and that it is our responsibility to remove the barriers to entry that so many marginalized communities across the United States experience. We are proud to be a part of this important project and will continue to invest in its evolution and implementation in the future,” said Melissa Abramson, REI National Field Manager and NYORC Co-Chair.

“Ensuring all New Yorkers are aware of and have access to State lands is integral to equitable state land management and the Open Spaces for All plan complements DEC’s ongoing efforts to ensure access to these treasured areas for visitors of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to enjoy — particularly those who have experienced barriers to enjoying public lands,” said State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC is grateful to our partners at the Open Space Institute and the New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition for their continued commitment to working collaboratively to protect public lands and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience the beauty of New York’s natural resources.”

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “I applaud the Open Space Institute and New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition for their important work to help more people fully enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation. Open Spaces for All is full of strong ideas that bolster our agency’s commitment to equitable access to our State Parks. We look forward to working with stakeholders to advance these goals.”

Jon Jarvis, former National Park Service Director said, “Regardless of your financial status or social standing, everyone should have equal access to outdoor, public lands. I am glad to see that Open Spaces for All is recommending the necessary steps to ensure that parks are spaces that bring us together, welcome us all, and foster community and life-long love and appreciation for the great outdoors.”

“Outdoor Afro has long championed ways to grow inclusion in the outdoors so that everyone can connect with our lands, water, and wildlife through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. We support Open Spaces for All because it recommends key actions we need to take, including the support of community-led initiatives and investment, to improve the experiences of all communities and amplify Black joy in the outdoors,” said Chaya Harris, National Program Director for Outdoor Afro.

Open Spaces for All is unprecedented in its scope and in engaging authentic voices and diverse communities that are directly impacted by chronic lack of access to nature,” said Lucienne Nicholson, Founder and Executive Director of Inclusive Woods & Us, and originating member of NYORC. “It was an empowering experience being a contributing author to this unparalleled Open Spaces for All report, a report committed to removing barriers that have historically marginalized Black children and their families out of America’s great parks and trails.”

“The Open Spaces for All’s recommendation guide is a solid foundation to be built upon for developing an equitable open space system. This guide is the epitome of what it means to capture the voices of those who need to be heard,” said Clifton Harcum, founder of Live Now, a DEI outdoors club based at SUNY/Potsdam. “For the many urban communities where parks are sparse, unsafe, or neglected, this guide provides an alternative way of thinking in terms of park locations, residents’ needs and accessibility. People from all communities should have the ability to feel safe, included and have access to nature and experience all its benefits.”

“It is so refreshing to see the ideas and aspirations of LGBTQ+ people included in the Open Spaces for All project. Our visibility and engagement are often overlooked, particularly in the outdoor industry. The project’s framework presents an innovative approach to building a welcoming outdoors where all can safely and equitably participate in the outdoor economy and in outdoor recreation. Get Out And Trek takes pride in the framework and looks forward to working actively with others to implement the framework’s recommendations and to changing the face of the outdoors for the incredibly diverse LGBTQ community,” said Keith Oberlin, Founder and Adventure Director of Get Out And Trek.

Open Spaces for All presents a unique vision for inclusive public recreation and access. For far too long, many communities, especially low income and communities of color, have been excluded from the benefits of recreating in outdoor spaces. Open Spaces for All will help break down these barriers and allow all individuals to feel like they belong and have access to these beautiful spaces in New York State. We hope the Open Spaces for All model can be replicated in other states and on the federal level to ensure safe, equitable, and just outdoor access for all,” said Anahí Naranjo, Ambassador and Outings Leader for Latino Outdoors.

OS4 A photo Image Credit: Photo courtesy of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

“The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference believes that the joys of nature belong to everyone. All people — regardless of age, ability, or location — should be able to experience the rewards of connecting with nature. It has been an honor to be a part of the Open Spaces for All team that pioneered the roadmap and vision for New York State to become a leader in equitable access and inclusivity for public outdoor recreation,” said Joshua Howard, Executive Director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and a member of the steering committee for Open Spaces for All. “This report is an important first step to ensure that barriers to enjoying the outdoors are identified and eliminated. We look forward to continuing working with the state and our partners to implement this groundbreaking plan.”

“All New Yorkers, regardless of their background, should have access to this state's incredible outdoor spaces. Today, we are taking a step toward realizing that goal through Open Spaces for All, which provides actionable steps for ensuring that New York’s public lands and waters are open — and welcoming — to all,” said Michael Barrett, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Open Spaces for All presents a cohesive vision for inclusivity in outdoor spaces, which the Catskill Center fully supports. The report comes at an optimal time as high use, particularly in the Catskills, presents an opportunity to reach more people who are in the outdoors already, and send them home with an inclusive message,” said Jenny Flavin, the Visitor Experience & Steward Coordinator at the Catskill Center.

Open Spaces for All also spotlights existing innovative policies, programs, initiatives, and creative partnerships — led by New York State Parks, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and others — that support and engage a growing and increasingly diverse constituency of park users. Successful programs and initiatives highlighted in the plan include New York State Birding Trail, First Time Camper Weekend Program, Connect-Kids-to-Parks Field Trip Grant Program (Connect Kids), and Albany Nature Bus.

Each year, millions of residents and visitors flock to New York’s open spaces seeking recreation, cultural enrichment, access to nature and exercise, a respite for mental health, and affordable vacations.

However, the lockdown conditions during the global Covid-19 pandemic underscored that not all New Yorkers have equitable access to the state’s parks and public lands. While there was a large spike in visitation during the first years of the pandemic, the increase did not reflect the diversity of New York’s population.

With the second-highest Asian-American population, fourth-highest Black and Hispanic population, and third-highest foreign-born population of any state, New York has a tremendous opportunity to be a national leader in providing equitable access to the outdoors.

Kim Elliman, president and CEO of OSI, added, “There is a clear need for more park and trail protection work. Open Spaces for All will catalyze meaningful change toward a future grounded in equity, representation, and inclusion for today’s New Yorkers and for all future generations.”

The recommendations in the plan are intended to serve the state’s leaders, recreation providers, and land managers, as well as the greater outdoor recreation industry, non-governmental organizations, community groups, and open space partners in New York.

Additionally, the plan is positioned to fill an upcoming need. In November 2022, New Yorkers will have the chance to vote for the New York Environmental Bond Act. The $4.2 billion Bond Act will provide crucial support for New York’s economy and environment, especially as the state continues to recover from Covid-19, by funding environmental protection programs that create jobs, safeguard sources of clean water, reduce community flooding, increase access to open space, and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

The Bond Act mandates that at least 35 percent of Bond Act funds must be spent on disadvantaged communities and Open Spaces for All already identifies potential initiatives in support of that goal.

Open Spaces for All was made possible with generous support from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund, Overhills Foundation, Samuel Freeman Charitable Foundation, and an individual contributor.

About the Open Spaces for All Plan

The Open Spaces for All plan was created by OSI in partnership with the newly formed New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition (NYORC) and with input from more than 200 individuals representing diverse social and economic identities, community groups, nonprofit organizations, businesses, existing users, thought leaders, non-traditional stakeholders, and government entities from across the state. Research support and analysis was provided by Potrero Group. The plan was guided by a steering committee with members from the following organizations: OSI, NYORC, Inclusive Woods & Us, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Center for Diversity at SUNY Potsdam, REI, and Get Out And Trek.

About OSI

The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands and sustain communities. Founded in 1974, initially to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has today been a partner in the protection of over 2.3 million acres in the eastern US and Canada, from Quebec to Florida.

OSI has had a long and highly successful connection with New York’s state parks, preserves and forests, having protected land that accounts for a full 10 percent of the state’s parkland. Over the past 45 years, OSI has doubled the size of Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Fahnestock State Park, Moreau Lake State Park, and Thacher State Park. OSI has protected more than 60,000 acres in or adjacent to the Adirondack Park Preserve and nearly 25,000 acres within the Catskill Park. For the last decade, OSI has become the state’s leading private partner raising capital dollars and undertaking capital projects at state parks and lands to foster public access and offer 21st century amenities. Learn more about OSI online at www.openspaceinstitute.org.

About the New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition (NYORC)

Initiated in 2020, NYORC is the state’s leading advocacy network dedicated to the promoting of equal access to outdoor recreation and the continued progression of recreation-focused issues in New York. NYORC shares information, provides networking opportunities, and supports issues raised by members that advance the coalition’s principles.

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