Last year the VT Trails and Greenways Council completed a successful economic impact study. At the same time, VMBA launched the VOICe initiative, which was the first to bring .COM and .ORG together to advocate for better support of VT’s amazing outdoor recreation. The combination of these initiatives has been inspiring to state leadership.
On June 15th Governor Phil Scott singed an executive order announcing the creation of “VOREC” the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative. The purpose of the group is to “Leverage Vermont’s outdoor recreation assets, brand, and culture to sustain, grow, and drive economic development in the outdoor recreation sector and the Vermont economy as a whole.” It’s a huge charge and it will take some time before tangible outcomes are realized. The voting committee is comprised of 15 people appointed by the Governor. Beyond state officials there are five commercial oriented representatives and four nonprofit organizational leaders. VMBA has a seat at the table.
I often get asked, “why is riding becoming so money focused?” It’s a fair question with a complex answer. Ultimately, there is one line that cannot be crossed to ensure VOREC’s stated desire for sustainability – The Vermont brand is for sale, but Vermonters are not. What does that mean? VMBA Chapters account for over 25,000 hours of volunteer time annually. Other trail-based nonprofits in Vermont are equally dedicated. A significant portion of VT’s singletrack is meant for locals’ use only. VMBA ideologically supports local only trails. Further, VMBA will never mandate mapping.
Outdoor recreation accounts for $5.5 billion annually to Vermont’s economy and supports 51,000+ jobs (a big chunk of which are professional level positions). 1 in 7 jobs depend on outdoor recreation in VT. Or to say… it has the attention of state level decision makers in a big way. Let’s face it, Vermont’s economy needs growth opportunities. Why not use existing infrastructure to accomplish that? This is why VMBA has to play a role.
VMBA must enter the statewide financial discussion for multiple reasons. Building trail no longer only takes elbow grease. Permits, tools, bridge/erosion materials, design work, ground fill, and private landowner advocacy all cost money. If a chapter wants to hand build and ride, that’s awesome – spend the membership revenue on landowner appreciation parties or launch a youth trail builders program.
Membership helps to unite locally and to augment our voice at the state level, which strengthens the protection of local networks. How’s that? Legislators ask me constantly, “how many people (i.e. votes) does your organization represent?” If it’s a lot, we earn favor when it comes to more access on public land, which, in turn, becomes the trails that Tourism can talk about. Yup, you guessed it – this means your locals only trail network is better protected.
As VOREC plays out, you can rest assured that VMBA will be insightfully representing the incredible effort of chapters and their unbelievable level commitment. It is because of their dedication that VOREC is possible in the first place. VMBA has a great relationship with the balance of the committee and is in routine communication with the new Tourism Commissioner, Wendy Knight. VMBA membership will be updated regularly on how things progress with VOREC going forward.
Tom Stuessy & the VMBA Board of Directors