Editor’s note: This commentary is by Matt Frost, of Tunbridge, who is the chair of the advisory board for the Trust for Public Land in Vermont.
Vermont’s future as a recreation mecca just got stronger with the announcement on Thursday that Gov. Phil Scott has created the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economy Collaborative in order to:
• Market outdoor recreation values of attributes of Vermont to foster economic growth;
• Examine and promote laws, policies and initiatives that encourage outdoor recreation business;
• Strengthen stewardship of outdoor recreation resources and the organizations that support them;
• Mobilize the members of the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economy Collaborative to develop and implement initiatives;and
• Encourage, incentivize and guide the development of community-oriented recreation assets increasing economic impacts.
This important measure will encourage the growth of our tourism economy and attract new outdoor businesses to the Green Mountain State.
We know that along with our agricultural economy, outdoor recreation has long been one of the pillars of growth in the Green Mountain State. From ski towns to Burlington to East Burke, this growth has benefitted many communities and small businesses. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s recent report, The Outdoor Recreation Economy, this is part of a large, and often overlooked, national trend: The industry generates more jobs than computer technology, construction, or finance and insurance. Successful Vermont businesses like Outdoor Gear Exchange, Mammut, Ibex, Burton, Darn Tough Socks and, of course, all of our world-famous ski areas are great examples of these kinds of businesses.
The people of Vermont have been conserving its landscape for generations, starting with Vermont’s first town forest in Westmore in 1900, and the first state park, Mount Philo, in 1924.
But there is intense competition for these jobs. Employers have many choices about where to locate their manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing. Labor skills, tax policy and transportation networks are important factors, but more than ever the quality-of-place is driving investment decisions. Business leaders and employees in the industry demand clean air and water and access to the great outdoors.
The people of Vermont have been conserving its landscape for generations, starting with Vermont’s first town forest in Westmore in 1900, and the first state park, Mount Philo, in 1924. Today, we all benefit from close-to-home public lands featuring mountain bike trails, hiking destinations, backcountry ski glades, boat ramps, favorite hunting and fishing locations, and picnic areas. And of course we enjoy easy access to nationally known destinations like the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail, the Green Mountain National Forest, and world-class mountain bike networks built by chapters of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association. These places are as important to our economy as our road and utility infrastructure, by creating the natural foundation to recruit the next great business.
Whether local conservationists today are protecting community resources like Bolton Backcountry (thanks to the Vermont Land Trust, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board) or the West Windsor Town Forest on Ascutney Mountain, every new public property we create requires smart deal-making, diverse sources of funding, and long-term community support. These same skills are needed to attract outdoor industry. The Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economy Collaborative is a perfect vehicle for combining business leadership with recreation organizations and conservation interests like The Trust for Public Land, making a clear case that investing in place is an investment in our economy.
We cannot sit on our conservation laurels! Like any component of our public infrastructure, our public lands require a long-term strategy for expanding and improving recreational access or we will be left behind by other states that also seek to grow their outdoor industry and tourism economy. I applaud Gov. Scott’s leadership on this issue. I encourage him and his staff to always remember that our economic future depends on a strong public land network in Vermont, from pocket parks to national parks. I know The Trust for Public Land and all the other conservation groups in Vermont are ready to work with you to make these ideas a reality.