BOSTON >> In 1898, Massachusetts began a long, storied journey to protect land not only for the conservation of precious natural habitats, but to provide recreational access for its citizens. Nearly 120 years ago state government leaders had the foresight to take proactive land conservation steps, and today the Baker-Polito administration pursues a similar path to ensure that future generations enjoy access to the commonwealth's natural, cultural, and recreational resources.
Through the acquisition of a 400-acre mountaintop, Massachusetts created Greylock State Reservation as its first state park, and now, as we celebrate Earth Day today, the public enjoys more than 450,000 acres of parks, beaches, forests, reservations, and recreational facilities. The state continues to protect, promote, and enhance those resources by constructing and restoring trails and multimodal paths, updating athletic facilities, and judiciously acquiring additional conservation land. Spending time in nature restores the soul, and our state parks provide extraordinary places for that restoration.
Even in my short time as commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), I have been able to observe a dedicated and committed culture of land stewardship within our agency, and our sister agencies of Fish and Game and Agricultural Resources, all part of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Within the last year the DCR protected vital natural resources, increased accessibility for people of all abilities within our parks, and improved natural and cultural educational programming. A few examples include the reopening of Massasoit State Park in Taunton, the addition of nearly 700 acres to Freetown State Forest, and the opening of long-closed gates to provide improved recreational access to October Mountain.
An important initiative implemented by Gov. Baker last summer was the extension of operating hours at state parks, athletic facilities, and pools. This Summer Fun Initiative encourages and reinforces a healthy, active lifestyle, which is vital to the growth and development of our youth. Equally important, the initiative introduced young people who may not have been familiar with the state's parks system to our incredible resources in the hopes that they may become lifelong visitors.
Throughout the year, DCR park staff offers programs, most of which are free, that combine opportunities for learning with physical activity. Such activities include hikes at historic locations within our parks, such as Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived simply in the woods, and the Chestnut Hill Reservation, considered a 19th century masterpiece of urban planning, and landscape design.
Massachusetts' long history and proud tradition of land conservation encourages us, as the current stewards of our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources, to protect them for the well-being of all and to leave them, well cared for, for the next generation of stewards.
Fortunately this care-taking responsibility is a joy, not a burden, given the beauty of our forests, meadows, beaches, and mountaintops. Building on our legacy of stewardship requires all of us working together, and in doing so we will meet our present and future conservation and recreational needs, improving our collective quality of life.
Leo Roy is commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.