Saturday January 5, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. -- A five-year plan for outdoor recreation in New Hampshire could spur the creation of more community playgrounds, walking trails for older residents and year-round activities in state parks.

The state Division of Parks and Recreation is required to report on trends and priorities every five years to remain eligible for federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grants. The latest version, released Thursday, brings together state research, surveys and focus group data that will be used by government agencies, businesses, nonprofits and communities statewide.

Among the report’s key findings was that New Hampshire’s growing elderly population is seeking more recreational opportunities, such as walking trails, easy nature hikes or paths to share with pets.

According to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, the state’s recreational and scenic amenities already attract older people who move to the state, and that trend will likely increase as baby boomers retire. The institute estimates that the combined effect of aging residents and older people moving into New Hampshire will be a doubling of the population, ages 65-74, in the next 20 years.

The parks division also is working to develop more year-round activity at state parks. The state park system traditionally has focused its efforts on summer visitors, but tourists who enjoy snow sports also want zip lines, mountain coasters, winter camping cabins, skating rinks and other activities, Bald said.

Providing recreational activities closer to home also is key, he said, including parks with playgrounds and picnic tables, bicycle paths and safe walking routes to schools.

The report includes four broad priorities: connecting people to the outdoors, promoting consistent stewardship of natural resources, emphasizing the ways outdoor recreation contributes to the state’s economic vitality and improving public outreach and education.