By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
A state-funded collaborative designed to fuel recreation projects distributed $300,000 to towns around the state since its inception three years ago. This year, the collaborative has more than $5 million to spend.
The Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, part of the Dept. of Forests, Parks & Recreation, was formed in 2018 when Gov. Phil Scott assigned a steering committee to expand the $2.5 billion recreation industry in Vermont. It has given grants of various sizes to projects in nine communities.
The money has funded a bike facility and dock in Brighton, wayfinding signs along the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, web design to help Poultney advertise Slate Valley Trails, and trail improvements in Randolph.
In January, Scott announced in his annual budget address that he would allocate almost $22 million to the recreation industry, and the surge in Vermont Outdoor Recreation funding comes from a slice of that money.
Program manager Jackie Dagger expects the program will fund up to 25 projects.
The grants are available to nonprofits and municipalities. An additional $1 million is also available through the Enhancement of Recreation Stewardship and Access Trail Grants program for trail-specific projects.
Kim Peters, recreation and parks superintendent for Rutland City, said the city will likely apply for a grant. She rattled off a list of projects that could use the funding. Among them: revitalization work in Meadow Street Park, which could include a new skate park, or the final stages of the Creek Path, which leads from the downtown area to the Rec Center.
Peters said she plans to study the application requirements with other city officials so they can select the strongest project.
Dagger said she’s looking for projects that can boost local recreation businesses, increase participation among all demographics, and strengthen environmental stewardship.
“I think it would be great to see some partnerships between towns … some regional thinking,” she said.
In the Mad River Valley, a group of organizations has been preparing a letter of interest for months. It’s pitching a $500,000 project that will include an indoor “trail hub” staffed with people who can send hikers and bikers to a growing network of local trails, along with a pedestrian bridge that would give them safe passage across a busy road.
The project would be the center of a connection point among trails, and there’s already a bike shop near that location, said Eric Friedman, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. Friedman said his ears perked up when the governor suggested a potential influx of funding. He’s been attending meetings of the Mad River Riders (a mountain biking group), the Mad River Path and the municipal recreation district.
“It got me thinking, what might we do, if this kind of funding became available, that would really get the most bang for the buck?” he said.
The project would build on an existing effort to combine local trails managed by various organizations, such as the Catamount Trail and the Mad River Path, under a single “Mad River Valley” logo. Through that initiative, Friedman said, multiple outdoors organizations are already working together.
“And so when the [Vermont Outdoor Recreation] grants became a possibility, we realized, this is the next logical step for this collaborative group to get together and try to get this grant,” he said.
Applicants will submit a letter of interest by Aug. 27 to the program, which will invite the strongest candidates to apply.
“We’re trying to make sure that the projects that we fund have the most impact possible for the outdoor recreation economy throughout the state,” Dagger said.