How To Grow Vermont’s Trails

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in Montpelier about how we can bring more of the outdoor industry to Vermont. Wouldn’t it be great if the next Patagonia or Black Diamond moved here? Wouldn’t that help our economy grow?

Yes, but realistically how easy will that be? Nationally, the outdoor industry is in flux. Ski resorts are consolidating. In case you missed it: Vail bought Stowe. Aspen and Squaw Valley’s owners formed a venture to acquire Stratton and a host of other resorts.

In hard goods, it’s a different story. Mothership Newell Brands (which owns Rubbermaid and Babyjogger too) announced last fall it was trying to sell off its winter sports businesses including K2, Volkl, Marker, Line and Full Tilt.

Outdoor retail chains like Eastern Mountain Sports are facing a brave new Amazon-ruled world and shuttering stores.

Meanwhile, here in little ol’ Vermont, family-owned, Vermont-made Darn Tough socks announced in April its revenues were up 28 percent. Stowe-based Inntopia was just tapped to handle digital booking for all of Vail Resorts’ ski areas. Outdoor Gear Exchange is growing with digital outreach and brands such as Ibex, Skida and Renoun are carving out solid niches for themselves.

Before we put too much energy into recruiting new businesses, would we be better served continuing to help our current businesses expand with grants, such as the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive that helped Darn Tough nearly double in size? Instead of spending money to market the state to newcomers, would we do better to support the non-profits that are already attracting people here?

In the past 12 months, Tom Stuessy of the Vermont Mountain Biking Association has gathered a group of successful businesses to form Vermont Outdoor Innovation Coalition, or VOICe. The goals of VOICe are:

1. To grow a business culture that is meaningfully connected to the economic impact of outdoor recreation.

2. Develop robust support for the volunteer force that builds and maintains our outdoor recreation infrastructure.

3. Create space to incubate united perspectives on the value of outdoor recreation and its impact on Vermont’s evolving economy.

4. Play a role in strengthening businesses already here and to augment Vermont’s appeal to new businesses.

Vermont Sports is proud to support VOICe, in good company with Cabot Creamery, Outdoor Gear Exchange, FUSE Marketing, Ibex, Long Trail Brewery, Lintilhac Foundation, Hergenrother Construction, Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board and Vermont Peanut Butter Company.

We believe in our local brands. We’ve seen how local non-profits such as Kingdom Trails, the Catamount Trail Association, Green Mountain Club, RASTA, the Vermont Mountain Biking Association and many more can literally change our landscape for the better.

We recognize the power they have to bring new people into our state and make the rest of us never, ever want to leave.

And after all, it’s people who move here, not corporations.

In the 1950s, Tom Watson came here to ski. He later bought a house here and happened to open an IBM plant in Essex. Coincidence?

The more we can protect and enhance outdoor recreation in Vermont, the more chances we have to attract not only the next Patagonia, but perhaps the next IBM or Apple, too.

What can you do to help? Volunteer, become a member of your local trail coalition, buy local. Most of all, get out there and ride, hike, run and love Vermont.

—Editor, Lisa Lynn

(Disclosure: Lisa Gosselin Lynn served as Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development under Governor Shumlin).

Featured photo: Bikers explore the Kingdom Trails. Courtesy photo.