Thirty years ago, Burlington’s Vermont City Marathon kicked off with 525 marathoners, and the Vermont 100 drew 145 ultra runners to the trails of West Windsor. This May 27, close to 8,000 people will compete in VCM. In July, the Vermont 100 will max out at 350.
Both races have had a profound economic impact on their regions. As Guy Alderdice, an investment advisor, says in our feature, “The Ultra Pioneer,”: “We moved our family to Brownsville because of the Vermont 100 and discovered a whole community of runners it’s spawned here.”
Can events like these bolster our economy? The economic impact of outdoor recreation has been a hot topic this spring. Two years ago, Congressman Peter Welch helped create the Outdoor Recreation’s Economic Contributions (REC) Act (HR 4665), the first national attempt to quantify the economic benefits of outdoor recreation.
The first data, released this February, showed that Americans spend more on outdoor recreation ($887 billion) than they do on fuel and pharmaceuticals combined. As an industry, outdoor recreation accounts for 2 percent of the GDP.
On April 23, Rep. Welch was honored with the National Outdoor Leadership Award in front of close to 250 representatives of outdoor organizations from around the country at the National Outdoor Recreation Conference, held in Burlington.
The group saw presentations from Kingdom Trails, the Rochester Area Sports Trails Alliance, the Lamoille Valley and Missisquoi Valley Rail Trails as well as the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC). “It was a great chance to show o how much this tiny state has done with so few resources,” said Michael Snyder, Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation, who leads VOREC.
Attending, too, were representatives from some of the eight other states that have designated offices of outdoor recreation or task forces devoted to it. Six of them (Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and Utah) are full offices with budgets and staff. Three (Maryland, Vermont and Wyoming) have task forces.
Utah’s office, created in 2013, was the first in the country. It has a budget of $5 million (sourced, in part, from the Transient Rooms Tax) and is staffed by four.
“We are already seeing a return on investment of as much as $6 to every $1 spent,” Utah program manager Tara McKee says. She talked about how grants, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 (the max the state offers) have helped build things such as a bouldering park in Moab. “Utah has dozens of dying mining towns like Moab,” McKee says. “Mountain biking and other outdoor sports are saving them.”
“Perhaps the key to success I’ve seen in the dozen or so efforts to create state offices of outdoor recreation is finding an adequate funding stream,” said Bob Ratcliffe, the National Park Service’s Division Chief of Conservation and Outdoor Recreation.
As Vermont’s legislative session comes to a close, Commissioner Snyder was hoping to squeeze $100,000 into the budget to go toward funding VOREC’s “Outdoor Recreation Friendly Town” pilot program.”
The grant program would help provide resources to designated rural towns to connect local communities and businesses with trails and other outdoor recreation resources and promote outdoor recreation.
The conference happened a week after the Outdoor Industry Association delivered to Washington, D.C., reports from all 435 congressional districts showing the economic impact of outdoor recreation. In Vermont, outdoor recreation accounts for 51,000 jobs (which means that one in every 12 Vermont resident’s job is connected to outdoor recreation) and for $5.5 billion in consumer spending.
“Without this kind of data, it’s hard to get governments to justify spending the money on trails,” said Ratcliffe.
As Vermont looks at how to attract more people and more businesses, wouldn’t investing in outdoor recreation make sense for both our personal and our economic health?