July 18, 2019

Trails lead the way for Vermont’s economy

Observer courtesy photo Danny Hale, executive director of VASA and chair of the Trails and Greenways Council.

Observer courtesy photo
Danny Hale, executive director of VASA and chair of the Trails and Greenways Council.

By the Vt. Agency of Natural Resources

Exploring Vermont’s outdoors by trail has always been part of the Green Mountain state’s culture, but now there is strong evidence to support how those activities bolster the state’s economy, too. The popularity of growing member-based trail networks for mountain biking, backcountry skiing, all-terrain riding and more are blazing new pathways for economic growth in the state, according to a release from the Agency of Natural Resources.

Representatives from federal, state and local trail organizations came together late last year to recognize the growing “outdoor recreation economy” and to showcase efforts to start measuring its economic contributions in dollars.

An economic impact report released on Nov.29 found that four trail networks alone generate $29.6 million in economic activity annually in the state, according to the Vermont Trails & Greenways Council, which performed the work through a USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant. The totals came from looking at direct consumer spending associated with using trails (trail tickets, rentals, etc.), and the activities recreationists love doing before and after hitting the trails, such as visiting a nearby brewery or grabbing a bite to eat.

The report came out weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that required the outdoor recreation industry to be quantified in the federal government’s annual calculation of national economic productivity. The bill was authored by Vermont Representative Peter Welch, and its bipartisan passage signaled a new willingness to recognize the economic benefits of land-based recreation.

The bill, called Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, was approved by President Obama on Dec. 8, 2016.

The economic impact study, which evaluated the Catamount Trail Association, the Green Mountain Club (GMC), the Kingdom Trails Association and the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association (VASA), was the first of its kind to look at the direct economic impact from a sample of Vermont’s premier regional trail networks. It uniquely combined multiple forms of motorized and non-motorized recreation all managed by regional and statewide nonprofits.

While it was only a limited sample of Vermont’s recreation economy, it provided real data tying 325 jobs directly to the trail networks, and linking $5.6 million to spending by those using the trail systems on food and drink annually in local communities.

Trail stewardship organizations across Vermont have long held the vision that jobs and economic spending supported by outdoor recreation opportunities in Vermont could be considered a major contributor to the state’s economy. “The study has been long overdue,” said Danny Hale, Executive Director of VASA and Chairman of the Trails & Greenways Council.

“We finally have accurate numbers to demonstrate what we as the represented user groups of the Vermont Trail System bring to the state; as individual groups and as a combined recreational entity,” Hale stated. “Having solid numbers that outline the benefits of these trails allow our organizations as well as the state and legislature to rightfully prioritize recreation in Vermont as a major source of tourism income and local spending. It’s high time that we all recognize this opportunity.”

To view the economic impact study for the Vermont Trails & Greenways council, visit: http://fpr.vermont.gov/sites/fpr/files/Recreation/Learn_More/Library/Final%20Report-%20Impact%20Analysis%20-%20VT%20Trails%20and%20Greenways.pdf

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