BOSTON — The state agency overseeing security at the State House and a vast swath of recreational facilities and Massachusetts parklands has been starved of resources for years, according to a new report, which calls for a major boost in funding and other reforms.
The report, released by a 15-member state commission, found that funding for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation has dropped by 16% since 2009 and remained largely flat over that time period.
This, coupled with a 25% reduction in staffing since 2009, has prevented the agency from dealing with a backlog of maintenance needs estimated at more than $1 billion in 2016, according to the report, which was compiled by the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Center.
“Considering the state’s needs for conservation and recreation and its renewed focus on climate change, the adequacy of the DCR budget to address future needs has come into question,” the report states.
“The lack of resources also has negative ramifications in terms of DCR’s timeliness, responsiveness, capacity to execute projects, and ability to leverage resources.”
The agency — which is often called the state’s largest landowner — is responsible for overseeing nearly 500,000 acres of forests, beaches, parks, waterfronts, athletic fields, recreational facilities and historic resources. DCR park rangers also provide security at the Statehouse in Boston.
The report noted that pedestrian access, including accommodations for people with disabilities, “has been a problem” along DCR’s urban parkways.
“Ramps and deficient sidewalks have made segments of DCR parkways inaccessible and/or dangerous for people with mobility issues,” the authors wrote.
The agency said it has contracted with private construction companies to install hundreds of wheelchair accessible ramps and other pedestrian amenities to help bring its facilities into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
The report also called for better communication with the public and an upgraded website that provides more details about the state’s parklands and recreational amenities.
“DCR’s website is not particularly user friendly, and information is not necessarily straightforward to access,” the report states. “Other states’ parks and recreation agency websites are often (but not always) more transparent and provide clearer pathways to information about offerings, as well as agency performance.”
What’s more, DCR lacks an agency-wide strategic plan to guide its operations, which makes decision-making “seem opaque,” the report notes.
“The lack of clear metrics tying DCR’s activities to progress towards a plan or agency goals also makes oversight of DCR more challenging.”
The report notes that more state money will also decrease the need to hike user fees for parkland access.
“DCR’s budget has seen little or no growth and is under stress for critical needs as evidenced by a substantial backlog of deferred maintenance,” the report notes. “It is time to make a commitment to a certain level of funding tied to DCR’s initiatives to support the environment and recreation, and eliminate the deferred maintenance backlogs.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.