New! Important Changes Coming to Maryland’s Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plans

Resources and Tools

by Daniel Rosen, AICP, Resource Conservation Planner, with Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner

Are you looking for a hiking trail to relieve your cabin fever? Do you wonder where you can play this game of pickleball you’ve heard so much about?

Your county has you covered in its Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan (LPPRP).1 Updated every five years, the LPPRPs make counties eligible for state Program Open Space (POS) funds, which they use to buy park and recreation land, develop new parks, or renovate existing parks and recreation facilities.2 Many counties and their municipalities work together to ensure that the park and recreation needs of municipalities are addressed in the LPPRP. The next updated plans are scheduled for adoption by July 1, 2022.

Together, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) publish Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plan Guidelines to instruct counties about the information, data, and analyses to be included in their LPPRPs. The main section of a county’s LPPRP deals with parks and recreation and includes information such as an inventory of existing parks and recreation facilities with an inventory map; a measure of user demand, based upon surveys, polls, and other outreach to the public; and data on actual usage and participation rates.

In 2017, the Guidelines made a major change regarding county parkland acquisition goals. POS law says, essentially, that counties must use half of their allocated POS funds for the acquisition of land or development projects until they meet their land acquisition goals. After achieving their land acquisition goals, counties may use up to 75% of POS funds for park development projects for five years.3 Previously, the land acquisition goal was 30 acres of park land for each 1,000 residents.

However, this formula did not consider whether residents lived close enough to parkland to take advantage of it, nor that large amounts of parkland could potentially be acquired cheaply in places far from densely populated areas. The best measure of whether parks, open spaces and recreational opportunities are accessible to local residents is proximity.

In updating and revising the Guidelines for the 2022 LPRPs Planning and MDNR are again asking the counties to determine shortages of parks and recreation facilities by using a Proximity Analysis and an updated Park Equity Analysis (see Appendix E, p. 26). The data from these analyses are translated into highly informative maps, such as the following:

  • Proximity Analysis — This map shows how much of southern Maryland lies within a given distance from park and recreation facilities of various kinds. Within individual LPPRPs, the proximity analysis often uses five miles (a 15-minute drive) for counties, with smaller-scale maps of urban and highly developed communities showing areas within a ½ mile (or some other fraction of a mile) of a park or recreation facility, or a set number of city blocks (see Fig. 1, below).
  • Equity Analysis — While the Guidelines do not require a county to use the park equity analysis tool in developing an LPPRP, it is very useful and can generate maps using U.S. Census data analyzed at the Census Tract Block Group level, combined with statewide maps of public and local parks. The analysis, as described on DNR’s website, combines individual scores for the following data layers to generate a combined park equity score (see Fig. 2, below):
    • Distance to public park space
    • Concentration of adults over the age of 65
    • Concentration of adults over the age of 65 
    • Concentration of low-income households
    • Concentration of non-white population
    • Population density
    • Distance to public transportation  Walkability

Another important feature of the parks and recreation section of the LPPRPs is the Capital Improvement Plan, which will show anticipated land acquisition, facility development, and rehabilitation priorities for 2022-2027. Some counties will include longer time estimates if planned capital improvements cannot be accomplished in the short term. Many counties work in collaboration with their municipalities in creating the Capital Improvement Plan. 

In addition to the parks and recreation section of the LPPRP, which can be considered “active use” public open spaces, counties also include information on county programs for natural resource land conservation. These lands, forests, wetlands, river corridors, open meadows, and other landscapes preserved in their natural state provide many ecological services, such as shoreline protection, carbon sequestration, and flood management, but do not have public access.

In their LPPRPs, counties also describe their efforts to preserve agricultural land. Although these preserved lands generally do not contribute to the park and recreation acreage goal, they complement park and recreation land by supporting habitat, wildlife hubs and corridors, improved air and water quality, scenic value, and rural character, among many other benefits.

To complete an evaluation of all preserved land, the Guidelines ask counties to review their agricultural land preservation programs in their LPPRPs. Preserved agricultural lands remain private and unavailable for public recreation, but they, too, provide complementary environmental benefits, as well as food and fiber for Maryland residents.

The final Guidelines were released to the counties and the public this year. While preparing their LPPRPs, counties will be reaching out to residents — including you! — to learn how existing parks and recreation facilities are presently used and to determine what will be needed to support them in the future.

Please be sure to watch for these developments and make sure your voice is heard! 

For more information on the LPPRP Guidelines, please contact Andrew Mengel, Land Acquisition and Planning, MDNR, at andrew.mengel@maryland.gov or Daniel Rosen, Resource Conservation Planner, at daniel.rosen@mayland.gov. Please see the following link for the LPPRP guidelines and previous county LPPRPs: https://dnr.maryland.gov/land/Pages/Stewardship/Local_LPPRPs.aspx

1  All 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City prepare LPPRPs.

2   See Annotated Code of Maryland, Natural Resources Article, § 5-905 (b)(2).

3 The full requirements can be found in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Natural Resources Article, §§ 5-905(b) and 5-905 (c).

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