Massachusetts cities and towns are scooping up open space at the rate of 54 acres a day with the goal of shielding the land from future development.
The Patrick administration announced another $6.3 million in grants this week to help 19 communities buy 880 acres, including recreational parcels, drinking water aquifers, wetlands, and wildlife habitats.
The parcels range from a 3-acre lot that will add to a wildlife migration corridor in Provincetown to a 290-acre area in Belchertown to protect waterfalls, scenic views and hiking trails in the Holland Glen Forest.
The state now has more than 1.2 million acres of land permanently barred from development.
The $6.3 million was matched by nearly $9 million in municipal, private and nonprofit money.
Environmental Secretary Ian Bowles defended the spending even as the state faces a possible $2 billion budget gap in the new fiscal year. Bowles said open space can aid the state's recovery by attracting workers and employers.
"We have the third highest population density of any state and quality of life is key to our economic success," Bowles said.
Other than the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts has no great swaths of federally protected open space, Bowles said, adding pressure on state and local communities to step in.
Over the past four years, the state has protected nearly 75,000 acres of land.
Those conservation efforts have resulted in the creation of 44 urban parks and the preservation of nearly 30,000 acres of land with prime farm and forest soils, Bowles said. It's also shielded 14,000 acres of forested landscape habitats and 9,300 acres within a half mile of drinking water reservoirs.
The grant program dates to 1961. The goal is to help cities and towns buy land not just for conservation but also for recreational uses like hiking, wildlife watching, biking, fishing, hunting, and cross-country skiing.
The latest round of grants comes from a $1.7 billion energy and environmental bond bill signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008.
"It's the ultimate value," Bowles said. "You hold it in perpetuity. It is a thing of value forever."
Senate President Therese Murray, who represents two of the towns that received grants, also praised the program.
"These areas like the ones in Falmouth and Barnstable are perfect examples of how we can utilize unused space for the enjoyment of the community," Murray, D-Plymouth, said in a statement.
Murray was referring to a 23-acre parcel in Barnstable that will help protect a historic farmstead, hayfields, and woodlands and a 10-acre area in Falmouth that is part of a project to convert a former concrete facility into conservation land and affordable housing.
Other projects include a 32-acre pine-oak forest and former sheep farm in Brewster that contains a vernal pool and habitat for rare species; and a 4-acre parcel in Arlington that had been the site of a proposed nine-lot housing subdivision but will instead protect fields, an orchard, and oak woods.
To qualify for the reimbursement grants, communities must fund the projects upfront. They can use the money to buy the land outright or to create conservation restrictions. The grants reimburse cities and towns for as much as 70 percent of project costs up to $500,000.
The 19 cities and towns that received the latest batch of grants include: Amherst, Andover, Barnstable, Belchertown, Brewster, Dennis, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Groton, Harwich, Lexington, Northampton, Orleans, Provincetown, Scituate, Templeton, Upton, Ware, and Yarmouth.