We all know that recreation is an economic boon to Vermont communities. It certainly is for our Valley. Recreation is part of the lifestyle choice that many families make in deciding to move to Vermont.
But we have to be careful not to kill the goose that is laying golden eggs. A recent NY Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/23/travel/vermont-mountain-biking.html) that focused on Kingdom Trails Association in Burke in the Northeast Kingdom delved extensively into the types of human conflicts that can result from the deification of mountain biking (or any recreational activity).
Remarkably, it failed to cover the importance of balancing economic benefits of recreation with environmental stewardship such as protection of unbroken swaths of habitat for deep wood species, protection of the pristine, upland headwaters of streams and rivers and subsequent downstream impacts, plus issues of erosion and fragmentation.
Over the past 18 months The Valley’s recreation organizations and stewardship organizations along with local conservation commissions, the Mad River Valley Planning District, and the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce have been meeting to discuss this very specific issue – working to develop recreational opportunities that are not simply about economic impact, but that also consider environmental stewardship.
These local organizations have received the state’s largest Vermont Outdoor Recreation and Economic collaborative (VOREC) grant to develop a recreation hub in Irasville behind the Localfolk Smokehouse that will connect our downtown to recreation trails in the Howe Block and far beyond. The grant includes a visioning component that specifies that funding be allocated for exactly these stewardship considerations. A steering committee is being formed to lead this process.
The aim of this work is to develop trails according to what this local collaboration is calling “gold standards” meaning recreational planning and development that balances the need to protect our environment with development that maximizes recreational opportunities and promote/protects multiple types of recreation as opposed to a single type.
This is good work and it is important work and it will help our community find a way forward that supports robust recreational opportunities while similarly supporting gold standards when it comes to how we treat our golden goose.
Expect community outreach from this steering committee in the weeks and months to come.