By Gov. Peter Shumlin
Those who grew up in Vermont likely experienced a childhood with adventures through snowy woods, discoveries in neighborhood brooks and foot races through grassy fields. In Vermont we’re so fortunate to be surrounded by a natural world that offers so much. It truly is nature’s playground that we all get to enjoy. For many, it is what ties them to our state. For others, it is what draws them to put down roots here. And for our state as a whole, it’s a big part of the identity and quality of life we all share.
The backbone of Vermont’s natural beauty is our state park system. Vermont has 52 state parks that are fully operated from mid-May through mid-October each year. Whether you’re camping, hiking, biking, swimming, boating, fishing or enjoying a picnic, Vermont’s state parks offer plenty of options to enjoy the best our state has to offer. And as we found out recently, many, many people are taking advantage of that opportunity.
So far this year, more than 1 million people have visited a state park. That hasn’t happened in 27 years and is a milestone that has only been reached four other times in the 91-year history of the state park system. While that milestone is impressive, attendance at state parks is only tracked from mid-May to mid-October each year. So the total number of visitors is likely well above the 1 million person mark.
Reaching that milestone is partly due to the active lifestyle that many Vermonters lead. It’s also due to the state’s efforts to encourage a more active lifestyle among our younger Vermonters and reverse a trend seen across the country toward a more sedentary, indoor-based lifestyle.
Reaching the milestone is also a reflection of state efforts to actively promote our parks and outdoor recreation. Our Department of Health, Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association, and most notably, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation have all been striving to help Vermonters live healthier and happier lifestyles and encourage those from out of state to visit the best our state has to offer. The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has invested wisely in our park structures and facilities, as well as training an excellent front line staff that continues to offer exceptional customer service to our park visitors.
Reaching the 1 million visitor milestone isn’t just good for Vermonters health and wellbeing. It’s also good for the state as whole. The economic contribution from those 1 million visitors totals about $88.7 million in state revenues. In a small state that’s a big contribution.
The good news for Vermont is that the uptick in visitation to our state parks is a trend that is expected to continue over the years to come. So get outside and continue to explore, but perhaps more importantly, spread the good word and encourage others to do the same.
Peter Shumlin is Vermont’s governor.