3 LEGISLATORS WHO CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE
Vermont would not look like it does were it not for the efforts if its congressional delegation. These three have not only protected land around the state but around the country.
16. PATRICK LEAHY
Few have had more influence on Vermont’s outdoor recreation landscape than Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.). First elected in 1974 (now the Senate’s longest-serving legislator), Sen. Leahy has been instrumental in setting aside forest service land for recreation since his earliest years in office and directed federal resources to Lake Champlain — as a sport fishery, historical site, and environmental treasure.
In his role as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1987-95, Leahy helped create the Forest Legacy Program, which was part of the 1990 Farm Bill.
The FLP has conserved 2.75 million acres across the country and nearly 90,000 acres of Vermont forestland including 1,800 acres of the Hunger Mountain Headwaters in 2018. It also created the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Park in 1998, and 26,000 acres of the Nulhegan section of the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge.
Leahy was also instrumental in passing the bipartisan Vermont Wilderness Act and the New Hampshire Wilderness Act in 2006 along with Sen. Jim Jeffords (I), and New Hampshire’s two senators. The legislation added two wilderness areas in the Glastenbury and Romance/Monastery Mountain areas and established the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, a 15,857-acre district within the northern end of the Green Mountain National Forest.
The GMNF now encompasses about 400,000 acres in Vermont, of which about 110,000 acres were added since the Wilderness Act of 1984, which Leahy helped sponsor.
More recently, in 2017, Leahy helped ensure Burlington was one of 22 cities nationwide to get federal Land and Water Conservation funding for an urban park. The $500,000 helped the city acquire 12 acres on the shores of Lake Champlain to develop a new city park and eventually develop a trail connecting two other park properties. Over the past three years, the LWCF funded a new Burlington waterfront city park, the Potato Hill Park Playground at Lincoln Community School, and the purchase and of community recreation fields at the Mad River Park in Waitsfield.
Championed by Sen. Leahy ever since it was first introduced as part of 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.
That’s just a sampling and Sen. Leahy is far from done. This fall, after years of work to secure the funding, construction began on a new Green Mountain National Forest Headquarters. The 11,550-square-foot federal building is on National Forest Service land, on Route 4 in Mendon. It will serve as a gateway to what Leahy has called ““a tremendous natural resource that is part of the legacy of every Vermonter.”
17. BERNIE SANDERS
This past year, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address long overdue maintenance backlogs on our public lands and waters. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has been a senior member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee which helped shepherd the GAOA through the Senate, and co-sponsored the act with Senator Leahy.
In a joint statement the two senators said: “Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act would deliver tremendous value to current and future generations of Vermonters. It would allow Vermont to create conservation jobs, greatly expand opportunities for hiking and recreation in our beautiful state, benefit our local economy through outdoor tourism, and help us combat climate change. As original cosponsors of this bill, we look forward to seeing it quickly enacted into law.”
Since its passage in 1965, the LWCF has provided over $140 million for Vermont parks, athletic facilities, recreational areas, and other public projects, conserving more than 275,000 acres.
Passage of this bill will bring an additional $7.6 million to Vermont next year alone, and will double Vermont’s average annual LWCF funding going forward.
The Burlington waterfront, home to the Community Sailing Center is one of the projects that has benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As Burlington’s mayor from 1981-89, Sanders is also credited with helping to preserve much of the waterfront for public recreation at a time when it could have been privately developed.
During his presidential campaign, Sanders was also an advocate for The Green New Deal proposing, among other measures, to spend $171 billion in reauthorizing and expanding the Civilian Conservation Corps to do both conservation work and trail maintenance and expanding and ending the backlog of maintenance projects in National Parks.
18. PETER WELCH
On Nov. 14, 2016 the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Outdoor Recreation’s Economic Contributions (REC) Act.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) authored the bi-partisan legislation calling for the Department of Commerce to quantify how outdoor recreation contributes to jobs and consumer spending, effectively making it the outdoor recreation industry one that could be measured and counted as part of the overall GDP, for the first time.
Two years later, the Outdoor Recreation Economy report for Vermont, the first report of its kind, found that at least 128 outdoor companies call the Green Mountains home, Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy generates $5.5 billion in annual consumer spending and supports 51,000 jobs. The industry provides $1.5 billion in wages annually and $505 million in state and local tax revenue. That act has helped dozens of states justify investment in outdoor recreation.
As co-chair of the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus, Rep. Welch has made expanding outdoor recreation a top priority throughout his time in Congress. In 2014 he led legislation to designate 46 miles of the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers as “Wild and Scenic,” a designation that will help with conservation and funding for their protection.
Most recently, Welch has introduced the Recreational Trails Fund Act looking to more than double the funding that goes to states for recreational trails. Legislation that Welch championed last year extended the North Country National Scenic Trail through Addison County to link up with the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail. Planning work on this extension through Vermont has already begun and the 40-mile extension should be completed within a few years.
“Outdoor recreation is a safe way to enjoy scenic Vermont and is great for our health, economic development, and attracts visitors to Vermont,” Welch has said. “This has remained one of my priorities in Congress.”