Vermont's Outdoor Economy - Feb 7, 2024

Becca Washburn (Recreation Chair, Vermont Outdoor Recreation Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative) joined the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday to review H.673, which proposes to direct the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative to conduct an outdoor recreation economic impact study. It would also create a position at the Vermont Trails and Greenways Council (VTGC). Additionally, it would also appropriate funds to the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to oversee the development of best management practices for recreational trails in cooperation with the VTGC.

VTGC is a non-profit that works to support the Vermont Trails and Outdoor Recreation Community and officially serves as an advisory body to the Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation. Their mission is driven by a commitment to trails as critical infrastructure in the state.

The bill requests in FY2025, $50k be appropriated from the General Fund to the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation for the purpose of hiring a contractor, in partnership with Vermont Trails and Greenways Council, to develop a set of universal trail best management practices (BMPs). The BMPs shall aggregate existing BMPs from both the Department and nonprofit trail stewardship organizations, with the intent of these BMPs being adopted for the Vermont trail system to ensure all public access trails are built and maintained to a high standard.

Trail Best Management Practices

  • Trail BMPs are practices for the design, construction, and management systems to reduce and mitigate impacts to the environment and community infrastructure while providing a positive recreational experience for the user.
  • Currently, most trail organizations in Vermont use either activity based, or organization based BMPs. Although there is alignment between types and organizations, there is not a consolidated manual specific to Vermont.
  • Creating a consolidated set of BMPs for Vermont is the first step to making them more accessible to the wide range of trail managers with the goal of increasing the application of and adherence to trail standards.

Washburn presented examples and impact of Vermont’s Outdoor Recreation Economy:

  • Mavic relocated to Waterbury because of outdoor recreation opportunities for employees.
  • Lamoille Valley Bike Tours in Johnson was created because of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.
  • A family temporarily relocated to East Burke from NJ during the pandemic and decided to stay because they found a community based around biking.
  • The trail hub in downtown Randolph acts as an anchor for other businesses.
  • Long-time Burton employee created VT-based outdoor gear start-up in South Burlington
  • Adaptive athlete looking to move to Vermont because of access to adaptive programming at Sugarbush.

Economic Impact

  • 6% of Vermont GDP in 2022.
  • Up half a percent from 2021.
  • Vermont is second in nation of % GDP from outdoor recreation.
  • Outdoor recreation accounts for 15,000 jobs or 4.8% of all employees (a significant increase from 2021).

The Vermont Outdoor Recreational Economic Collaborative (VOREC) guiding pillars include:

  • Grow outdoor recreation related businesses.
  • Increase participation in outdoor recreation activities among all demographics.
  • Strengthen the quality and extent of outdoor recreation resources.
  • Increase outdoor recreation stewardship and environment quality.

To further the outdoor economy, gather a coalition, and collaboratively develop a vision and set of priorities for Vermont outdoor recreation under the tagline: “Move Forward Together Vermont.”

Project Timeline:

  • Data collection and information gathering (Sept. 2023-April 2024)
  • Draft Vision and Priorities (May 2024)
  • Public Feedback and Input (June – August 2024)
  • Final Production and Design (Fall 2024)

Develop an Economic Impact Study that addresses the following:

  • Overall statewide and county-level impacts
  • Distribution of impacts across recreational activities and land ownership
  • Current carrying costs of outdoor recreation asset stewardship.
  • Outdoor Recreation ROI in Vermont
  • Create recommendations for future investment to maintain and grow VT’s or economy, including climate resilience investments.

Nick Bennette (Executive Director, the Vermont Mountain Bike Association) and Tommy O’Connor (Executive Director, the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association) joined the Committee next. Bennette is also Co-Chair of VTGC and O’Connor is a board member.

They offered background on trails in Vermont:

  • 8,000 miles of public access trails, 70% hosted by private landowners.
  • Public-access recreation is a designated purpose for conservation.
  • Strong collaboration between public land managers and nonprofit stewardship organizations.
  • We have dozens of outdoor recreation-oriented communities.

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