On Wednesday the House Agriculture & Forestry Committee was introduced to H.131 by Representative Sims. She explained the forest economy learning journey legislators attended last year where they visited some recreational sites to highlight some of the rural economics of Vermont.
As part of the increased access and use for these outdoor assets, which is a benefit to the economy, she also shared they have a stewardship responsibility that is overtaxing the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, resulting in impacts on the VT trails system. A shift towards stewardship is why H.131 creates a designated fund system that is sustainable. The fund would be an umbrella for Vermont Outdoor Recreation and Communities (VOREC) Grants, as well the administration of other grants to expand and steward existing trail systems.
Representative Graham asked about the current funding stream (liquor taxes) and noted that if we are shifting to a General Fund revenue stream, those dollars will come from “someone else” who has a need. Sims agreed these would be general fund dollars.
Representative Templeman asked if the spending figures being proposed were a certain percentage of the tax base generated by the VOREC grants. Sims noted that was the intention.
Nick Bennette (Executive Director, Vermont Mountain Bike Association) shared some statistics with the Committee. Vermont has over 8,000 miles of public access trails, over 40 alpine and Nordic ski areas, and 6M acres accessible for hunting and fishing. Vermont’s outdoor spaces are quite accessible, being within a five-hour drive for more than 60M people.
Over 70% of the state’s trails rely on private landowners and volunteers to maintain them. Without more investment in and support for outdoor recreation, Bennette warned, the quality & quantity of Vermont’s outdoor recreation opportunities are at risk. The volunteers that maintain the trails will not be able to keep up with the current growth in usage. Vermont has seen a 400% growth in mountain bike trail usage since 2018. He pointed to the Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program as a model to follow. Read more…