Commentary

Matt Frost: Attracting the outdoor industry to Vermont

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.

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  • Justin Boland

    Thank you for this – your op-ed was much clearer messaging than Phil Scott’s recent “We wear plaid at the office to raise awareness of the outdoors” press op, which left me a bit confused.

    The jobs numbers from that report are remarkable, even taken with a grain of salt or three.

  • Matthew Davis

    I’m glad that at least Phil Scott is talking about this. VT has huge potential in this area as well as in the potential attraction of tech. companies that tend to like to locate near recreation potential. Hopefully he will act on this important issue.

  • Dee Andersen

    Outdoor recreation in Vermont is an essential part my family’s life. Personally, I would like to see more bike paths as cycling in the road is often a super scary event. Many motorists don’t seem to honor the 3ft. State Law. They speed by, honk horns, yell from their windows and come way to close, especially on the narrow roads with no shoulder. Slow down and share the road y’all !

  • jan van eck

    Go down to the Schwartzwald area of Southern Germany and take note of the extensive network of (combination) walking and bicycle paths. These are cheap to build and cheaper to maintain, and most important, keep the recreationists away from motor traffic.

    I suggest a concerted effort to construct such a network. The Lamoille Rail-Trail is a work in progress, stalled by lack of some extra cash. Equally, plenty of nice back-country roads are hampered by no shoulders, and narrow shoulderless bridges. How much work is it to build a suspended walk/bike surface outside the auto path on a bridge? To see how neat this is, I invite you to visit the covered bridge on Bridge St. in downtown Waitsfield, where a separate lane hangs over the side with its own weather roof. What a fabulous job!

    No worries about losing front lawns to paths; you can build them through the woods between towns, the hikers/bikers won’t mind. Remember, those visitors spend real money.

  • chris wilmot

    These land trusts have blocked far more jobs than they have created.

    And trails like the V.A.S.T system have been decimated as a result of the artificially low property tax rates these trusts enable. Which has led to an explosion of out of state landowners who subsequently post their property. Which resulted in a serious loss of recreation funds as the V.A.S.T trail no longer exists in many of the areas it used to.

    The land trusts are basically a vehicle for the rich to have lower taxes while masquarding as conservationists. It’s smoke and mirrors to hide their true goal- lower taxes for the rich

    In reality they conserve nothing as land can be taken out of the trusts and sold at full value. Even if the landowner had benifitted from low taxes as a result of “preserving” their land …..

    I seriously question who is funding these groups.

  • Jason Brisson

    Building up local recreational opportunities is great!
    If you build it, they will come!!
    Double edged sword though–any outdoor business that moves here, and sells stuff, has to contend with being on one side of the country, and that’s a big hurdle.
    It costs more in shipping, not to have your distribution geographically centered, and leaves businesses at an economic disadvantage.