Community Forum, Brian Shupe: Investing in Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy means acting on climate

This week’s community forum is by Brian Shupe, Vermont Natural Resources Council executive director, and Tom Stuessy, Vermont Mountain Bike Association executive director.
As children, many of us spend fun-filled hours learning to first ride a bicycle, then to ride it well. The roots and rocks of Vermont trails provide the perfect training ground for learning to go bigger, jump a little higher, and move a little faster year after year.
As you grow older and your riding — hopefully — improves, Vermont meets you where you are with a wide range of exceptional bicycling experiences for riders of all kinds — from the mountains to the roads.
Of course, the trails and infrastructure that support cycling in Vermont didn’t materialize overnight; they are the result of countless volunteer hours, private and public partnerships, and investments and land-use planning that keep our forests healthy and intact. Trail systems such as Millstone Trails are a prime example of how natural resource conservation can be paired with economic stimulation and love of the outdoors to support local landowners and communities. That love translates into real dollars and cents for local communities, but our outdoor recreational opportunities are only as good as our ability to maintain and protect them.
On that front, Vermont faces a challenge. We have already seen the impacts that shorter winters with less snow have had on our skiing communities. In response, many of those areas have turned to summer recreation — most notably mountain biking — as strategy for keeping tourism dollars flowing.
But that strategy is not without challenges; climate change poses a serious threat to bicycling as well. Between 1958 and 2012, the Northeast saw more than a 70 percent increase in the amount of rainfall measured during heavy precipitation events, more than in any other region in the United States. Looking to the future, projections forecast continuing increases in precipitation. More rain means less bicycling and more trail damage — and, just like a lack of snow, climate change in the form of more rain can hurt local economies that are now depending on outdoor recreation.
We are already seeing the impacts of increased precipitation. This spring, the sustained and frequent rains resulted in more pressure on volunteer trail groups to keep up with growing demand for trail access — but heavy rain is only part of the problem. Vermont leadership has only recently awakened to the economic potential of mountain biking and thus is keen to bring more riders to our networks. The confluence of ridership trends, demands for access, volunteer bandwidth, and harder rains provokes serious sustainability questions for Vermonters.
These impacts are real and could be costly unless we take action now. In Vermont, outdoor recreation accounts for more than 34,000 direct jobs and $2.5 billion in consumer spending. Many of our communities depend on this revenue to support thriving local economies. We pride ourselves on the beauty of our state and the quality of our outdoor recreation experiences. As a state, we must take immediate, substantial action on climate change to protect our tourism economy and protect the investments already made in recreational facilities by outlining a plan to meet Vermont’s greenhouse gas pollution reduction commitments and our renewable energy goals.
We have an opportunity right now to bring this message home. This autumn, hundreds of Vermonters have gathered for a series of seven public meetings hosted by the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC). VOREC was established in June by Governor Scott to engage stakeholders in a public conversation about recreation, the Vermont economy, and the stewardship of our natural resources.
It is heartening to see so many people attend the meetings and voice their support and share ideas relating to Vermont’s outdoor recreational economy. What brought these people together was a shared love in all things outdoors — bicycling, hiking, boating, birding, hunting, fishing, and simply being outside. We want to make sure the future of our climate and its potential impact on recreation opportunities in Vermont is not left out of the conversation.
We believe that Vermont can and should do more to protect and sustain our tourism industry — not just through the strategic conservation of more public and private land, but also through substantial action on climate. We encourage Vermonters to voice their support for strong action on climate that protects the investments already made in our outdoor recreation economy. If you were unable to attend a VOREC session in-person, submit comments and ideas online at fpr.vermont.gov/VOREC.

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