Vermont works its way toward office for outdoor recreation

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Vermont could be next on the list of states that have dedicated offices of outdoor recreation

Mike Snyder

Mike Snyder, commissioner of forests, parks and recreation for the state of Vermont, visited with Vermont brands at Outdoor Retailer, including Darn Tough. Photo by Michael Hanson.

For all the hundreds of billions of dollars outdoor recreation contributes to the United States economy, the outdoor industry hasn’t traditionally used its influence to pull the levers of power. In the past couple of years, Washington, Utah and Colorado have created government offices to flex the industry’s muscle on policies like land use, conservation and recreation.

Now, Vermont is poised to be the fourth state on that list—and the first in the Northeast. Mike Snyder, commissioner of forests, parks and recreation for the state of Vermont, doesn’t want to wait for his state to establish one of those offices. Since recreation is part of his job description, he’s getting a head start on uniting Vermont’s outdoor industry. Roughly $2.6 billion—10 percent of Vermont’s GDP—comes from outdoor recreation.

Snyder said Vermont was on board with the idea of a state-level position to help foster and grow the local outdoor industry. “Until we get there,” he said, “I’m committed to using my office to do [that work], and to be really proactive about coordinating and collaborating with commerce and economic development—because that’s what it’s about.”

Snyder was at Outdoor Retailer to meet with brands from Vermont and find out how the state can help them succeed by providing capital for startups, offering business incentives and tackling conservation and access issues.

He wasn't there “to have meetings just to have meetings,” he said. He spent a good chunk of time on Wednesday at the Darn Tough Vermont booth, chatting over maple bacon creamees.

“I’m trying to break out of the traditional, ‘well, we’ll make trails and people will use them,’” Snyder said. “Believe me, that’s been really fun because we expanded mountain biking on state lands, we’ve expanded backcountry skiing. That’s a big part of what I’m doing and I’m really proud of it … [but] what about manufacturers of gear? What about retailers? Part of our mission now is getting us together.”

Like many other states with vibrant outdoor communities, some of Vermont’s outdoorists see the “hook and bullet” population as separate. Snyder—an avid deer hunter and backcountry skier—wants to work to get rid of that divide, which he says is an “unnecessary barrier.”

“I think it’s the same population, and we can grow both. We know hunting, in particular, is on the wane, and so be it,” Snyder said. “When we talk about outdoor recreation, we’re talking about [both industries] ... There’s probably more opportunity to grow more and be more efficient, particularly in a small state like Vermont, if we do it simultaneously.”

This story first appeared on p. 14 of the Day 3 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.

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