Helping Small Islands Think Big

From RI to the Northern Mariana Islands

In August, Senior Watershed Planner Anne Kitchell, Senior Planner Craig Pereira and Senior Environmental Engineer Gemma Kite traveled to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to conduct field work and public outreach meetings to help develop the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

Our Marketing Director sat down recently with these lucky travelers to learn more about the plan and the beautiful islands of CNMI.

 

First things first, what is a SCORP?

A SCORP is the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan and according to American Trails, this plan serves as a guide for all public outdoor recreation in urban and rural neighborhoods, cities, and regions for a given state. Each state must prepare a SCORP every five years to be eligible for funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At HW we have worked on major SCORP plans for Rhode Island and CNMI.

 

What are the basic facts of this assignment?

CNMI is located several thousand miles from New England, just north of Guam and about an eight-hour flight from Hawaii. The island came under U.S. control during World War II and became an official Commonwealth in 1975. For this project, HW is working with the Office of the Governor – Office of Grants Management and State Clearing House to develop their SCORP. This program is a valuable source of support for protecting resources and providing facilities for public recreational use. HW teamed with Koa Consulting, an environmental consulting group based on Saipan, to conduct the site inventory, meet with local stakeholders, and conduct public outreach workshops.

 

What did you do while you were there?

During one week on island, Craig and Gemma traveled to Saipan, Rota, and Tinian, inventoried 120 open space and recreation sites, conducted four public workshops, met with the Advisory Committee twice, and spoke with dozens of residents. These workshops and informal discussions with the public focused on what is working well, what could be improved, and what is needed for recreation opportunities. The people on the islands were welcoming and really appreciated our help.  

Craig and Gemma inventoried beaches, children’s parks, basketball courts, cultural sites, and historical sites. Gemma especially enjoyed the archaeological site called House of Taga on Tinian, where one can explore the legends of Chief Taga by viewing the largest known erected latte stone pillars. Craig enjoyed the tranquility and scenic overlook at the Bird Sanctuary on Rota. Both appreciated the opportunity to experience every recreation space on all three islands. *Not a bad assignment, according to our staff here in Sandwich, MA!

 

Looking ahead, what is next?

The residents continue to be very engaged in the process. Our team captured a diverse range of ideas and input, as public workshops were busy and very well attended. The project website www.cnmi-scorp.com maintains a link to a public opinion survey, where residents and tourists can provide feedback on their favorite recreation sites, ideas for improving current sites and creating new opportunities. Preliminary feedback suggests that residents would like to see the following: multi-purpose sites where children to adults have opportunities to recreate in the same space; improved maintenance of sites; and recreation opportunities geographically dispersed so that people do not have to travel far to enjoy public spaces.

HW has been working in the Pacific region for over a decade on stormwater management, watershed and marine area planning, and sustainable development. In fact, we are kicking off two new watershed planning projects in the CNMI this month.  

 As a subcontractor to Weston & Sampson, HW designed and executed the statewide public process for Rhode Island’s SCORP, and was excited to start again in an entirely new place that couldn’t be more different physically and culturally. HW will be working with the SCORP Advisory Committee in CNMI over the next few months to continue engagement and finalize the plan.