Vermont, like many other states, is realizing that outdoor recreation is big business and is trying to leverage this sector to encourage economic growth. At the same time there are efforts afoot to update Act 250, the Vermont statute that regulates land use.
One issue that overlaps both of these topics is policy around the development of new trails and trail systems. On one hand the state and businesses are trying to stimulate the economy, in part, by quickly establishing new trail systems for mountain biking, backcountry skiing and other recreational uses; on the other hand there are questions about what standards should apply to new and incrementally developing trail systems to ensure sustainable and sound management, and whether Act 250 is the correct mechanism to regulate this.
The New England Chapter of BHA has provided input to various state agencies in VT that peripherally relate to these issues, and for the first time this winter has submitted a statement to Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation addressing this topic from the perspectives of maintaining the remote character of the few remaining truly remote areas in the state, as well as maintaining access to quality places to hunt and fish across the state.
As part of this effort the Vermont leadership team conducted a survey of Vermont BHA members to gauge awareness and concern for these issues. Based on the survey results it is clear that the Vermont membership has been aware of and concerned with the fast growth of very dense trail networks especially on public land in some parts of the state, but that members also value their cooperation with other recreational user groups and the access provided by trails in general. Based on the survey results the feedback letter was modified to better reflect both the value of trails for access to the outdoors to members, and the balance sought due to the concern shown by members. This concern relates to the pace of growth and lack of standards for trail development, both the physical impact of their presence as well as taking their heavy use into account as a significant impact on wildlife, habitat and other users.