Advocacy is at the core of VMBA’s mission to ensure the sustainability of mountain biking in Vermont and enhance the overall quality of riding in our small but mighty State. While much of what we do on the advocacy front doesn’t lend itself to flashy communications – collaboration with public land managers, partnership development, coordination with other organizations, guiding legislation, etc… – we wanted to shed a little more light on our major advocacy priorities and how we’re working to achieve them.
During the legislative session (January through late spring), our efforts are focused squarely on developing, tracking, and/or contributing to legislation that affects trails. Off cycle, we step back and think bigger picture & longer term, focusing on two major challenges that ultimately will necessitate legislative solutions: Act 250 jurisdiction (which we want out of) and Current Use (which we want into). Visit our Advocacy Page to learn more.
So what’s holding things up?
While there is broad consensus that Act 250 is overkill for trails, there remain many stakeholders who are unwilling to simply exempt trails without an alternative oversight program in place. The development of such an alternative has been attempted as recently as 2020/21, the failure of which provided clear lessons as to what ground work needs to be done first. Specifically, the greater outdoor recreation and environmental protection community needs to align on a landscape-level understanding of where trails should and should not go, and trail stewardship organizations need to better codify and communicate the best management practices (BMPs) we already employ at the project level.
On the Current Use front, any additions to the program have serious budget implications, which the legislature is very apprehensive to consider. And any modifications within the program that aim to neutralize budget impacts could impact existing participants who already manage, farm, or conserve their land. In short, Current Use is a very difficult program to modify without a clear understanding of financial implications and broad support.
What is VMBA doing?
First and foremost, VMBA has long identified the importance of acting together with other Vermont trail stewardship organizations, and we now co-Chair the Vermont Trails & Greenways Council (VTGC), the official statewide collective of trail-related organizations and official advisory body to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Much of VMBA’s advocacy work is done through and in support of the VTGC, which extends our footprint to more than 50,000 individual members, 100,000+ annual volunteer hours, and 7,750+ miles of trails.
Second, we are actively strengthening our alliance with organizations that prioritize environmental protection, many of whom nonetheless steward or host recreational trails themselves. Much work has already been done in understanding the perceived gaps that exist in our current BMPs, and our focus is on collaboratively developing a landscape-level approach that would allow us to more easily pursue new trails in areas that are most favorable to outdoor recreation and avoid even proposing projects in areas that did not make sense due to environmental sensitivity.
Overall, we are employing a ‘small steps’ approach over one which attempts ‘giant leaps’. Simply extracting trails from Act 250 isn’t tenable for many stakeholders, creating a gap that’s too big to cross from where we are today. Our current work to codify BMPs and develop more useful resources for the broader trails community to follow them will lay the groundwork for what an alternative program should look like. Working with the greater outdoor community to build a landscape-level view for trails will similarly help establish guidance that incentivizes us to think big while minimizing impacts on particularly sensitive natural communities. We are planning to conduct an economic impact study, too, which will quantify the benefits trails bring so that we can more accurately weigh these against their impacts – critical information to balance the costs of a future modification to the Current Use program.
What can you do?
VMBA’s member base of nearly 10,000 individuals affords us significant weight in the statehouse and with our partners. Engaging friends, neighbors, and anyone who appreciates the trails to become a VMBA member will continue to build that strength.
Representing the mountain bike community and upholding the tenants of our Rider Responsibility Code and Ride With Gratitude values is another critical step everyone one of us can take, in establishing our reputation for both when and where we use the trails as well as how we interact with other user groups.
Lastly, be prepared to engage. While we do not have any items on the docket for this upcoming legislative session, things can happen very quickly once we are in session and the ability to rapidly mobilize our member base in support of or opposition to a bill or specific trail-related language therein is an invaluable tool in our advocacy arsenal.
For those who made it all the way through this post – kudos! Feel free to respond in the comments with any questions or suggestions. We’ll share more as we make progress on the efforts outlined above, and appreciate your support as members in the incredible mountain bike community here in Vermont.
Nick & the VMBA Office