Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Open Space

Note: For a list of DEC-managed recreation lands see the Places to Go page.

2016 Open Space Conservation Plan Revision

The 2016 Open Space Conservation Plan is available.

Open Space Introduction

Open space plays an important role in our state's landscape: the patterns of development, economy, culture, environment and well-being of our people. When our nation was young, the notion of open space conservation would have seemed unusual. The country was predominantly rural and agrarian; human settlements were often surrounded by wilderness and people were directly dependent on our state's fields, forests and waterways.

As our nation advanced, we largely abandoned firsthand relationships with the land, while spreading the landscape with homes, neighborhoods, commercial development and infrastructure. Now, as undeveloped land becomes scarce in many communities, it has become clear that there are basic human needs that go unmet without open space. In modern times, open space conservation requires active participation by government and citizens to ensure that these needs are met.

View of a shaded and groomed park in an urban setting
Urban Parkland
View of a large Central New York orchard with a distant hiltop
Working Landscapes

Open space provides:

  • Preservation of areas of particular scenic beauty, cultural value and historic significance
  • Room for production of food and forest products
  • Room for outdoor recreation
  • Green infrastructure to shape urban growth and provide a more livable and efficient urban environment
  • Protection or restoration of ecological functions
  • Protection of wildlife diversity and habitat for endangered plant and animal species
  • Protection of fisheries, viewsheds, public access and ecotourism potential
  • Mitigation of natural hazards, such as flooding, and protection of water supplies
  • Values that can take decades or centuries to mature and can be quickly lost to new development.
View of a sunny bike path with a couple bicycling

Definition of Open Space

Open space may be defined as an area of land or water that either remains in its natural state or is used for agriculture, free from intensive development for residential, commercial, industrial or institutional use. Open space can be publicly or privately owned. It includes agricultural and forest land, undeveloped coastal and estuarine lands, undeveloped scenic lands, public parks and preserves. It also includes water bodies such as lakes and bays. The definition of open space depends on the context. In a big city, a vacant lot or a small marsh can be open space. A small park or a narrow corridor for walking or bicycling is open space, though it may be surrounded by developed areas. Cultural and historic resources are part of the heritage of New York State and are often protected along with open space.

NYS Open Space Conservation Plan

New York's Open Space Conservation Plan serves as the blueprint for the State's land conservation efforts. The Open Space Plan is required by law to be revised every three years.

photo of a marshland bird habitat at Alder Bottom Wildlife Management Area in Chautauqua County
Alder Bottom Wildlife Management Area

New York's Open Space Conservation Plan provides four overarching objectives to direct our priorities, policies, and actions:

  • Promoting Outdoor Recreation
  • Addressing Climate Change
  • Ensuring Clean Water, Air and Land for a Healthy Public and Vibrant Economy
  • Protecting, Using and Conserving Our Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage

The Plan provides a number of actions that we can take in pursuit of each objective and a listing of associated programs and policies. The Plan also contains a statewide list of priority conservation projects that are eligible for funding through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF).

The e-Appendices, available on this website, contain evaluation and criteria used to determine EPF spending priorities and recommendations by the Regional Advisory Committees, local governments and partnerships, the public, and staff from DEC, the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) and the Department of State (DOS), to improve New York's open space conservation program.

The Goals of the State Open Space Conservation Plan are:

photo of Sanford Lake, Tahawus, Essex County
  • To protect habitat for the diversity of plant and animal species in order to ensure the protection of healthy, viable and sustainable ecosystems.
  • To protect our State's water quality, including surface and underground drinking water supplies, lakes, streams and coastal and estuarine waters needed to sustain human life and aquatic ecosystems.
  • To maintain an interconnected network of protected lands and waters allowing wildlife to be able to shift range with climate change to follow natural migration patterns.
  • To reestablish broad riparian corridors along, and around, water bodies throughout the State.
  • To combat global climate change by adding to the tree canopy in our urban centers and urban communities in order to moderate temperature fluctuations, thereby lowering our energy consumption.
  • To improve quality of life and overall health in our State's communities, especially those with limited current access to open space.
  • To maintain critical natural resource industries such as farming, forest products, commercial fishing and tourism.
  • To combat global climate change by sustainable stewardship of our State's forests for carbon sequestration and air quality enhancement.
  • To combat global climate change by encouraging more compact community design patterns.
  • To protect habitat to sustain the traditional pastimes of hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife viewing.
  • To provide accessible, quality outdoor recreation and open space to all New Yorkers.
  • To provide places for education and research relating to ecological, environmental and cultural resources.
  • To protect and enhance scenic, historic and cultural resources considered to be valued parts of the common heritage of our State's citizens.

Smart Growth

Aerial photo overlooking the City of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake
A relatively compact pattern of development

Smart growth is an approach to land use that redirects economic growth away from undeveloped areas and back into established communities. Open space conservation and smart growth go hand in hand, just as the natural and built environments are interconnected. On one hand, open space conservation redirects growth by preventing development on protected land. At the same time, smart growth draws development pressure away from unprotected open spaces.

More about Open Space: