A Vermont Office of Outdoor Recreation?

On October 10, New Hampshire became the 16th state in the nation to have an official “office of outdoor recreation”—a staff position dedicated to growing a sector that employs close to 79,000 people and generates $8.7 billion in consumer spending annually in that state, according to Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). 

Maine has an office and soon, Vermont may have a variation, too—a dedicated person or group of people who will work in tandem with New Hampshire, Maine and New York to grow outdoor recreation.

“We want each state [in the Northern Borders region] to have an outdoor recreation economy office. We want them to be networked, and we want to market the region as a whole,” said Ted Brady, the Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, a week later.

Brady was speaking to a packed house of over 100 at the first Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economy Summit. It was held at Bolton Valley Resort on October 18 and put on by the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance and the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative. 

The summit was a who’s who of Vermont’s outdoor recreation businesses and non-profits with speakers such as Ric Cabot of Cabot Hosiery (who launched Darn Tough Socks), Orvis’ Frazier Blair who shared how her company has grown in southern Vermont and beyond  and Justin Worthley who talked about how Burton is growing in its community thanks to the recent addition of Talent Skatepark and a proposed concert venue.

The summit also gathered executive directors of trail organizations such as Mike Debonis of the  Green Mountain Club, Matt Williams of the Catamount Trail Association, and Karrie Thomas of  Northern Forest Canoe Trail; and land groups such as the Vermont chapters of The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands and others.

As people in fleece and jeans listened to speakers and later sampled Bolton’s signature wood-fired pizzas, it was clear that here was the brain trust of Vermont’s outdoor recreation. It’s a brain trust that’s been operating on overdrive to get to where we are now.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates 51,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in consumer spending across Vermont, significant numbers given a population that’s less than half the size of New Hampshire’s.

And a new report by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis ranks Vermont fourth among all states in terms of the percentage of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) outdoor recreation contributes.

So why does Vermont need an “office of outdoor recreation?” And what, exactly can an office do that Vermont’s myriad outdoor organizations are not already working on?

For starters, Brady explained, Vermont will now have a seat on the four-state Northern Borders Regional Commission Outdoor Economy Council.

Championed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) ever since it was first introduced in the 2008 Farm Bill, the Northern Borders Regional Commission has, per its website awarded “over $30 million and leveraged $87 million for 155 projects across the four states.” In Vermont, it has funded 58 projects totaling $10.6 million, including helping to build and market rail trails and support co-working spaces in towns like Lyndonville.

The new four-state NBRC Outdoor Economy Council will collaborate and allocate new federal funds to build outdoor recreation and support the growth of businesses that surround it.

Brady, who served as Senator Leahy’s aide and was the State Director for Vermont and New Hampshire for Rural Development before his current role, stopped short of saying exactly how much in new funding might come to Vermont for outdoor recreation or how, exactly the office would operate.

But he did add this: “When you close your eyes and think about Vermont, you think about New England and the Northern Forest. Ultimately, I hope we can think of that as a regional brand that attracts international visitors.”

Featured Photo Caption: The trails crew: Karrie Thomas of Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Zac Freeman of RASTA, Sinuosity’s Mariah Keagy, Abby Long of Kingdom Trails and Mike Debonis of the Green Mountain Club at the VOBA/VOREC summit. Photo by Lisa Lynn

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