Can Outdoor Recreation Help Fuel N.H.'s Economy? | New Hampshire Public Radio

Can Outdoor Recreation Help Fuel N.H.'s Economy?

Feb 1, 2021

New snow is causing outdoor recreation companies to cheer, and with outdoor sports considered a relatively safe way to recreate during the pandemic, N.H.'s outdoor economy is surging. In fact, N.H. has a newly established Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development that aims to support the state's outdoor economy. We discuss how the state plans to help businesses capitalize on the interest in getting outdoors and the ramifications for infrastructure, affordable housing, and conservation of the state’s wild places.

Airdate: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021


GUESTS:

The N.H. Business Review reported on the federal grant that will fund New Hampshire’s new outdoor industry agency.

Vermont's Governor Scott proposed a nearly $22 million budget investment in outdoor recreation last week.

The Granite Outdoor Alliance ;makes the case in a video about N.H.'s outdoor economy: 

Granite Outdoor from johnnysmoothcat productions on Vimeo.

Transcript

This transcript is machine-generated and contains errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange. LaOutdoor recreation means different things to different people in New Hampshire, from kayaking to ATV riding to hiking. But all told, it adds up to almost three billion dollars worth of economic activity. And recently, there are concerted efforts to bolster this sector, which has been growing steadily even before the surge of interest due to the pandemic. Today in The Exchange, what this industry looks like now and what our guests hope it looks like in the future.

Laura Knoy:
We're talking with Taylor Caswell. He's Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, which will oversee the state's newly created Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development and Commissioner Caswell. Welcome back. Also with us, Tyler Ray, his company, Backyard Concept, is an outdoor advocacy firm and is the managing entity of Granite Outdoor Alliance. That's a new nonprofit representing outdoor businesses and groups. And Tyler, welcome back. Good to have you, too. And also with us, Kelly Ault. She's executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. And Kelly, good to have you. Welcome to The Exchange. So all of you, Commissioner Caswell, first. What is the outdoor economy? How would you describe it?

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
Well, the outdoor economy is a whole ton of stuff, it's everything we're looking outside of our windows today with a lot of snow in New Hampshire and what that means for our economy, from a standpoint of visitors, from the standpoint of tourism. But really, from my standpoint, a big part of what the outdoor economy represents is what it means to live in New Hampshire, and how we sort of take that that fact and turn it into something that we can use to grow our economy, to make our communities more livable and and to be just that much more appealing both to the people who live here, but to people who are maybe thinking about living here.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
So it's a whole host of things that I'm sure we'll talk about. But, you know, Tyler's group and the private sector that they're working with in partnership with sort of the policy-driven initiatives that we're looking at, at the state level, is really a good indication of a direction that I hope that we're going to continue to go as we come out of COVID here.

Laura Knoy:
So it's more than Commissioner Caswell, you know, buying snowshoes at your local store or, you know, hoping that out-of-staters come camping here this summer. It's about creating a more attractive quality of life for people who live here now and who might want to live here.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
Right. So we do a lot of survey work at the department and try to understand what motivates people to come to New Hampshire, what motivates people to be here, really even what like H.R. executives are using to recruit people in other businesses to New Hampshire. And the top line in almost every instance of those is the access to outdoors and natural resources. And I think that that's becoming even more apparent now after we've been through what we've been through over the last couple of months. And people are looking at ways to be able to work remotely or they're looking at ways to be able to maybe change their lifestyle and join a smaller community and be part of that community and help grow the trail networks, for example, and create businesses that are related to that. There's just a whole host of things that go to this. And I think it's very central, to me anyway, as life experience here in New Hampshire, my job. So I think it's a big deal, honestly.

Laura Knoy:
Lots of ripple effects. Then again, beyond just, you know, selling ski passes. Tyler, how about you? What's included in this outdoor economy? What kind of range of businesses and activities and benefits do you see?

Tyler Ray:
Well, as Commissioner Caswell said, it's a lot of things and it's really almost a loaded question, but I'll do my best to break it down. You know, for starters, outdoor recreation, unlike other businesses, outdoor recreation drives commerce.

Tyler Ray:
And it's this ecosystem of interlinked industries joining commerce, infrastructure and communities. It's really a valuable aspect of where we live in New Hampshire. So what does this really mean in real time? My perspective and really what drives the outdoor economy and the economic activity that's made within it, it's built around these outdoor pursuits. Consumers, whether the locals are tourists, sure, they're purchasing here and staying or camping, staying in hotels, grabbing a beer after hitting the trails, restaurants, coffee shops, so forth. Yes, it's an experience based lifestyle and, you know, folks traveling to recreate these wild landscapes. So it's a reflection of how people operate on an everyday basis where outdoor lifestyle is part of what they do. So who's included in this? Starting at the beginning of that question? Great. Great question, becausethat's the unique nature of the outdoor economy, really, what makes it so large and impressive is that includes many types of industries. It's retail. I'll speak specifically to the answer is retail, manufacturing, hospitality, arts and entertainment. And it's even in some cases, it's even non recreation based companies. A company is looking to provide a competitive advantage for hiring and retaining workers. So what this means, I guess, overall, is that your shops, companies, hotels, music and arts, it's a mixed bag, but a various industry industry, but for sure, one that makes up one giant industry.

Tyler Ray:
And I'll just say one side note here, too, that, you know, it wasn't until 2017 when the Bureau of Economic Analysis started tracking this data of the outdoor industry, it actually became a thing. So prior to that, and folks like Commissioner Caswell and Kelly, we're talking anecdotally on this stuff. We're saying, hey, how do you track someone who's a group of four that comes up from Boston who wants to go skiing? They leave at 3:00 in the morning. They show up and they go skiing and then they have a great time and they come home. What do they do during that trip? They probably get gas. They they grab some food, maybe they spend the night, maybe they go have some beverages afterwards. So how do you track that? So in 2017 that this became tracked and the numbers were just mind blowing, and all of a sudden here we are having this conversation today, several years later and the movement is on and it's pretty exciting stuff. For someone like myself that I'm outside every day. And that's part of my life with my kids, my wives and friends, you know, that's just what we do. And so it's an exciting movement to incorporate all aspects of life, because at the end of the day, what it is, is a way of life.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I've got those numbers in front of me, as you said, from the Bureau of Economic Analysis that's under the U.S. Commerce Department. So they started tracking this just a couple of years ago, as you said, Tyler. How about in Vermont, Kelly? How are people there describing what the outdoor economy is? Beyond sort of the obvious of, you know, people coming up and staying in a hotel and going out to eat?

Kelly Ault:
Right, I think that's a key distinction, there's an important tourism component to outdoor recreation, but as Commissioner Caswell and Tyler have explained, the outdoor recreation economy is very broad, very diverse, and that allows it to be very resilient. And we've seen that during the pandemic where we have industries that directly provide outdoor recreation products, services and experiences in manufacturing, retailing, hospitality, guiding operations. But we also have this wider circle of outdoor reliant companies, they're in media, sales, they're in tech and health care, real estate is seeing a boom, professional and government services. These all are connected to the outdoor recreation resources that we have on people being able to get out and be healthy and exercise and find opportunities in their backyards, yards and in their local communities. We've seen companies in Vermont, manufacturing companies advertise for engineers and mountain bike magazines near Kingdom Trails and hire based on these amenities in their region. And so they're able to attract talent and offer remote workplaces based on this quality of life value. And I think, as Tyler mentioned, what this all adds up for our states is that this does promise to be a significant driver in our overall economic recovery as well as our future health.

Kelly Ault:
We know from these statistics in Vermont, from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, that even prior to the pandemic, the sector was growing faster than Vermont's overall economy. In our data from 2019, which I'm sure is similar to New Hampshire, is that it contributed 5.2 percent to Vermont state GDP and that was the second highest in the nation. And so even during the pandemic, despite a lot of challenges and hardship that businesses have experienced and are continuing to experience across the board, we are optimistic about seeing outdoor manufacturers do really well. Backcountry-related equipment has gone up 76% since last year. Snowshoes are up 245%. Nordic equipment, ski equipment, splitboards. So people are investing in this equipment, supporting our businesses so they can get outside and play. And of course, with the snowstorm, that provides another ingredient in the mix for getting people excited to see what our communities have to offer.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. I'm struck by what you said, Kelly. Vermont advertising in mountain biking magazines all over the country for engineers to come live in Vermont. Look at these beautiful mountain biking trails that we have. So that's another key economic piece of all this, it seems, Kelly.

Kelly Ault:
Yes, it has become a real asset for talent recruitment for even businesses in relocating to Vermont. As we've discussed earlier, we are seeing these trends of migration, people coming to shelter in place during the pandemic and then considering staying here and starting a business or setting up a remote workplace in Vermont in our rural communities, because they are finding that it is convenient to work from anywhere in some industries. And so I think that that's going to be a real driver in a way that the state can support our communities moving forward is really thinking about the resources, the incentives and the infrastructure that's needed in order to support new and emerging business opportunities that are based on our outdoor recreation resources and our quality of life.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, really interesting. All and lots more to talk about. I want to remind our listeners that we are hearing about new efforts to bolster New Hampshire's outdoor recreation center. And we want to hear from you. Tell us what outdoor recreation looks like in your community. Also, how can it thrive and expand without harming the resource that it depends upon? And as we're hearing, we're talking about not just outdoor recreation, attracting visitors or, you know, selling snowshoes or ski passes, but just making more attractive communities, being used as a human resources recruitment tool.

Laura Knoy:
So all of you, what about the goal of wilderness for wilderness sake, leaving parts of the outdoors alone simply for the wildlife, for the clean air, the clean water, which we all know open space provides for a healthy environment overall, even if you never set foot into the forest, it's helping you by keeping the air and water clean. Kelly, you first, but only from everybody, is it possible to overdevelop this outdoor sector?

Kelly Ault:
Well, I think the pandemic has shown, with the increased use, that we do have to address infrastructure needs in order to make sure that we can sustain our natural resources and the other values around wildlife and forests, preventing forest fragmentation that we care about, in addition to supporting people getting outside in our communities, having this economic benefit. I think that it's made our needs for infrastructure investments apparent. And I think that by shoring up our infrastructure, it does support a dispersal of recreationists from the more populated popular areas to more quieter areas and where they can connect with new businesses. And I think that that will help spread around the love of people getting outdoors and being able to benefit the community without overstepping the carrying capacity of some of our natural communities. I think finding a balance between remote access and accessibility from downtowns and greenways in communities is important and also making sure that when we invest in infrastructure, that we're also supporting resources for that long term maintenance and enhancement. And so we can always count on the ability of that asset into the future.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, so now we're getting into some of the nitty-gritty, which is great. Commissioner Caswell at the community level, sort of far away from Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains, in just your average New Hampshire community. How sort of aware do you think, Commissioner, community leaders are about the need to preserve those natural assets and maybe not build the new road on the trail that everybody enjoys?

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
Yeah, no, I think that that's a really important point to make here. And all the points that Kelly made absolutely agree with. I think the other thing to bear in mind is that the more people are able to experience the outdoors as part of their everyday existence here in New Hampshire and Vermont, I think the more willing they are to support the efforts to maintain and the efforts to protect those resources. So you're sort of, I think, helping the situation and guarding against issues of overuse and so on, by the fact that you've you've built that into your economic and community experience. I use the example a lot of times. I live most of the time in southern New Hampshire, and I'm a big mountain biker. And there are some really great mountain bike areas in southern New Hampshire. And one of my favorites is up in Amherst and Merrimack, it's called Greater Woods, and it's been there for a number of years. It's not something that's going to show up necessarily on a tourist map. It's not something necessarily that we would go out and do some promotion on some of our bigger areas in the north country, like the Mount Washington Valley or in Littleton. But it is very much part of the experience of people who live in this area. And I think it is very much part of the story that employers want to be able to tell, as they're recruiting or retaining that workforce, and utilizing that and building in maybe some lifestyle benefits and lifestyle asset access as part of the overall employment package that they're offering. So you can access, for instance, that trail network from the Fidelity facility in Merrimack. It's kind of across the street and through the woods. And a lot of people I know and see back there work at Fidelity. So it's more than just a tourism play. And it really grows, I think, a much deeper appreciation among community leaders and among community members to help protect it and diversify the access to the outdoors in our state.

Laura Knoy:
So how are you talking, Commissioner Caswell, to, you know, local leaders, planning boards and so forth who might say, yeah, yeah, I know that this is, you know, an area that a lot of people like to recreate, but we need to put a road here. I mean, what would you say to them about hold on, there's benefits to keeping this unpaved.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
Well, I think,I would say I see more of that conversation happening between developers and communities. So there have been instances over the last few years where we've seen, whether it's a housing developer or a multiuse developer, that's come in and said, you know, this land here that I can't necessarily build on because it's got either some environmental issues or concern that needs to be protected. You know what if we put a trail through here to add to the experience of the people that are going to work here or live here. And those conversations are really well received in most communities and I think helpful to both ends of that equation that sometimes, as you know, can get a little bit divisive.But developers that are coming to this part of the state, to New Hampshire, the good ones at least, are really seeing the value of building this sort of thing into and finding where we talk about interconnection of forests and wilderness areas. Interconnection of trail networks is another area that when you start talking about what is your future plan as a community look like and how do you want to work with the development community to be able to improve the life experience in that community? How do we build that into our overall strategy? And that's really what we're trying to get at with the with the development of this position and is kind of on that functional level. We have a tourism division that does a great job at marketing our state, marketing all of those things. What we really want to do with this outdoor recreation position that we've just posted is to really build in all of those things that I keep talking about, plus a whole lot of other things around the infrastructure development, zoning and commitment to the trail networks.

Laura Knoy:
being a little more mindful of of that. Yeah, well, and I'm going to ask you about that new office later, Commissioner Caswell, because that's a big deal. But as I suspected, we got lots of listeners who want to jump into our conversation about the outdoor recreation economy, what it means and what it should look like in the future. Bob's calling in from Littleton. Hi, Bob. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I just got a quick question for Commissioner Caswell. So he's probably aware, up in Littleton, we're on the Ammonoosuc, we already have a large landfill over in Bethlehem. And Casella has pulled a permit to destroy 17 acres of wetlands and build a new landfill that's actually larger than the Forest Lake State Park that it would be abuting. I would just like to know, we're fighting it as hard as we can right now. Obviously, tons of tourists in the area and this would flow into the Ammonoosuc as well. I just wondered how he feels about that project.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and thank you for calling, Bob. And that is a big controversy was going on for a long time and well aware of it, Save Forest Lake, the state park up there. I guess, Commissioner, you can address whatever parts of Bob's question you want. It does seem to me that this represents exactly what we were just talking about. You know, a lot of people love the beautiful spaces in New Hampshire. And so that brings with it some type of development, whether it's a road or a dump. So go ahead, Commissioner, since he addressed it to you.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
Yeah, I mean, this is, you know, a key component of what we were just talking about is how do communities want to take advantage of all the things we've been talking about here today? And I would I would agree that a dump in that area of that is being proposed probably is not a great place for that to exist. It's right up against the state park, which is a big part, as the caller knows, of the life experience for a lot of people in Littleton and Whitefield and Dalton. And the growing dependency, maybe not dependency is the right word, but the the growing influence and importance of outdoor recreation and access to all of the wonderful natural assets that we have in New Hampshire is a critical part of the life experience of what we are looking to recruit long term into that area of the state. So, no, I don't necessarily believe that fits.

Laura Knoy:
Bob, thanks a lot for calling in. And Donna in Jackson has a similar question. She says, How do the guests recommend we manage the tension between residents and visitors and newcomers? Donna says, I live in the Mount Washington Valley. We survive on hospitality and tourism, but the pandemic has brought an "anti" attitude. Out-of-state license plates are derided based on things like vandalism in state parks, national forests and private property; rescues that should never need to have happened; crowds we have never seen before. Where, or is there, a balance? Donna asks. And Donna, I'm so glad you wrote because I want to ask all of you about this. Tyler the pandemic. She's right. We saw tons of outdoor recreation here in New Hampshire, people saying, OK, all my vacations and all my activities were canceled, I guess I'm going to drive up to New Hampshire and see what it's like. How would you respond to Donna's email, Tyler?

Tyler Ray:
Well, it's certainly a relevant question, no doubt about it, and something I think most of us has experienced one way or the other. You know, my thought on this from the perspective of Granite Outdoor is that what we're suggesting that should be implemented is to strike a balance here on how we drive our policy. So, for example, the Mount Washington Valley is a great example of being a tourism-focused area. It's a one-way economic model. And so what that policy, or policies, says is, let's bring people up here as much as we can. And sure, that's how the local economy [inaudible] That's how it operates. But that one-way model doesn't ever necessarily contemplate, well, what happens if tourism is actually really successful? And all of a sudden, everyone starts to listen and then drivse up to the Mount Washington Valley? Well, we sort of saw that with the pandemic, because that's exactly what happened and it became a mess. And so all of a sudden, we have, with this sort of double edged sword, you know, we saw in April and May, we saw very stagnant timeframe in the Mount Washington Valley, where there was zero economic activity and everyone's yelling and screaming that we need to get back outside. Then fast forward to the summer and it's a circus. I live in the Mount Washington Valley, and it's crazy, there was people everywhere. And so we saw both ends of the spectrum. So what does that all mean?

Laura Knoy:
What do you do about it with this new group? The Granite Outdoor Alliance.

Tyler Ray:
So where I'm going with this, with the outdoor movement, we're experiencing a growing pain right now, right? Where people want to get outside, they're folks that maybe have not historically gotten outside. There's a significant newcomer market estimated to be 20 to 30 percent increase on trails and so forth and in towns and people visiting. So there's this moment of education that really needs to happen. And Commissioner Caswell touched on it where, look, these folks that are getting a new to the trails, the outdoors, they don't have they may not have the experience, the luxury to be around folks or information that provides educational resources on how to act in the outdoors. They think they're walking down the street if they're from the city. And although that sounds a little silly, it's actually true. And so a way to tackle this, is how some of these communities are doing that, is through education, through science, through outreach. And frankly, I think what I've seen personally is, you know, as these folks continue to repeat their visit to the outdoors, they do end up coming around and having an understanding. When there's a kindness on the behalf of the locals to help steward these outsiders, I think that's the the approach that needs to happen.

Laura Knoy:
Kelly, I want to hear from you, too, on this? I'm struck by what Tyler says. I like the way you describe it, Tyler, a growing pains moment. What do you see, Kelly?

Kelly Ault:
That's exactly what it is. And I think it's an opportunity. And we have started to look at emerging outdoor hubs in Vermont over the last few years as a way to address some of the overpopulated regions of our state, the Stowe, the Killington, the Mad River Valley, the Northeast Kingdom. These are places that people go, whether they're visitors or locals. But we've been trying to really bring together outdoor hubs in emerging communities around the state that are poised to be outdoor hubs, but haven't quite had the visibility or the attention. The Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, which is Vermont's version of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, established a grant program in 2018 and over two years gave out grants to nine communities totaling $300,000, even though the request that came in were over 2.4 million. There are so many communities that want to invest in their recreation infrastructure so they they can accept visitors. They can be positioned to handle visitors and welcome them and provide the education and the quality experiences that they're looking for. And I think that will continue to move in that direction.

Kelly Ault:
I know we'll talk about our governor's announcement, investing in an infrastructure in our state. And we are going to be looking at a significant expansion to that program, really giving communities that are ready and poised for greatness in this area, a chance. The other piece I think I should mention is that our nonprofit organizational community, is our liaison to the user groups. And they've done a great job of trying to set codes of conduct, talk to their users about stewardship and respect for private landowners because so much of recreation of Vermont is on private land, we really have to recognize the generosity of our private landowners and respect their decisions on how they are opening up that land for access. And so between our nonprofit community, our businesses, you can be ambassadors and supporting community customers in being good, good, good visitors, as well as the state marketing on what our guidelines say and how people can be safe by coming to Vermont. I think it's a collaboration that can hopefully lead to some awareness and some support for these communities that are are seeing a lot of visitation.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, and spreading out the visitation a little bit is what I'm hearing from you, Kelly.

Kelly Ault:
Yes, correct.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we have to take a quick break, but coming up, we'll talk more about land use, conservation, also how our guests see motorized versus non motorized recreation and their vision for the outdoor economy. All that's coming up. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on NPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy. Today, the outdoor recreation economy in New Hampshire and New England, what it looks like, what its potential is, and new efforts to support it. Listeners, what is the outdoor recreation economy mean to you? What's the right way to support it or expand it? And what's the wrong way? We're talking with Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs. Also, Tyler Ray, his company, Backyard Concept, is the managing entity of Granite Outdoor Alliance. And Kelly, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. And all of you right back to our listeners, is calling from Lee. Hi, Kara. You're on The Exchange. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, thanks for taking my call. My question is about land use recreationally, but also that balance between conservation of the land and managing the wildlife and how do your guests see hunting fitting into that picture, because that's a big part of our tradition here in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
I'm glad you called. And I have those numbers actually in front of me that you mentioned earlier, Tyler, from the Department of Commerce. And when they measure New Hampshire's outdoor activity, at least in terms of dollar overall value, hunting, shooting and trapping are number one. Snow activities, number two. Boating, fishing, number three, RV's, umber four. Motorcycling, ATV-ing, number five. Climbing, hiking, tent-camping, number six. So Kara's right. Hunting is a big part of our outdoor economy. Mr. Caswell, I'll throw that one to you.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
Yeah, absolutely. That has to be part of it. It's part of the outdoor experience and legacy in New Hampshire. And there's you know, there's lots of ways you can accommodate all that. And we've been doing it for years. So any any work that we're going to be doing is going to absolutely take into account how people have been using the land for generations, literally. And and, you know, I ride my mountain bike and hike in plenty of places during the fall, during hunting season. You know, you put on some orange and you be friendly to the hunters. And everybody seems to get along OK for the most part. And we'd like to try to continue that. But, you know, the whole point of overuse and the increased use, I should say, in the private land ownership, I know you want to get to that, and there was some comment on that earlier. You know, we've really developed a strong relationship and a formal relationship with the National Leave No Trace organization. And we've been formulating that over the winter, in anticipation of increased usage. And we did see quite a bit of that, as Tyler pointed out, last year up in the Mount Washington Valley and of course, over in the Franconia area. Franconia Notch, I think on Columbus Day was about as packed as anyone can ever remember seeing it.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
And a big part of that is outreach, is education. It's recognition that if you're going to hike in New Hampshire, it doesn't have to be on Fanconia Ridge. There are lots of really great places to get out and enjoy the outdoors, and that goes for local communities as well. And I think there are a lot of local efforts that are seeing that. For instance, the Northern Forest Center that we work with is one of our partners. And I know they work with the teams over in Vermont as well, has developed a whole campaign called Ride with Gratitude. And it's aimed at just what Kelly was talking about, protection and recognition of landowners and what what part they play in all of this, and really trying to drive the fact home for people who use that land, that they are doing that because of the graciousness of a landowner somewhere, in many cases. And it's important to sort of build this culture into the outdoor experience that we keep talking about here.

Laura Knoy:
Sorry to interrupt you there, Commissioner. Tyler. How about you? What role do you see motorized recreation playing in your new group, Granite Outdoor Alliance? As I said, boating, RV motorcycling, ATV-ing are above climbing, hiking, camping and bicycling. So what role do you see those motorized outdoor activities playing in your group and in the outdoor economy overall?

Tyler Ray:
Well, there absolutely is a presence, as Commissioner Caswell said, and they're they're part of the outdoor recreation scene and so incorporated 100 percent. For Granite Outdoor, what we're seeing is that when we evaluate the landscape of activities and activity groups that are out there, you know, some of these legacy activities, let's call it, have their own associations. So you have hunting associations, SkiNH, RV and so forth. And so there's representation that already exists. And so where Granite Outdoor acts in those situations, is as a secondary or complimentary support group and as a facilitator. We want to be able to work with the various groups. If there's a conflict between motorized/non-motorized, we want to be able to mediate that and come to resolution. We see issues, for example, in the Gorham-Berlin area with a significant motorized surge going on there. And, you know, the human-powered side of the sport is maybe not progressing as quickly as certain people would like. I guess what I see there is that it's facilitating the relationship, because at the end of the day, rising tide floats all boats. Certain people live or come to these areas, and maybe they want to ski one day, but they want to ride ATVs the next day. And that's part of it. That's how the outdoor recreation system works. It's how people live their lives. Maybe you ride your snowmobile to a trailhead to go backcountry skiing. So it's all interrelated and supported all the same. And so that's how we approach that.

Laura Knoy:
So in Granite Outdoor Alliance, Tyler, are you seeing your group as a voice for those non- motorized outdoor uses or for all outdoor uses?

Tyler Ray:
It's all outdoor uses. I want to be absolutely clear with that because that is the outdoor industry. We want to reflect what is actual real-time in the industry and in the state of New Hampshire. And that's really how we approach it with most things, we need to be able to align with what is actually happening. Otherwise, things aren't worth the paper they're written on. And, you know, that's an important fact, because when we think about economic policy, we think about land conservation and stewardship. These ideals need to reflect what is realistic and what is actually happening. And so earlier when we talked about, you know, the question about over overuse, crowded communities, it's well, communities in some ways aren't positioned to manage that yet. There's a collaboration aspect that's necessary to make that shift because it's a behavioral aspect in many ways. And, you know, that's hard for people to understand a lot of times is that, you know, we live in this world of screen time and Facebook and automatic updates and all. I'm on Instagram and saw this beautiful waterfall. I'm going there. You show up and the trailheads full.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, You and 6000 other people. Right.

Tyler Ray:
[crosstalk] you should probably go somewhere else.

Laura Knoy:
And it'd be nice to have more information and resources. And maybe this is what your new group is about, Tyler, about where else to go. For example, I live in Concord. The White Mountains aren't that far away. I never go there on the weekends, ever, ever, ever, because I just know it's gonna be too crowded. Now, I work, so it's hard to get there during the week. But, you know, it would be nice to have information about other places that people could go that don't have 6000 people all taking selfies of themselves in front of the waterfall.

Tyler Ray:
Absolutely, and that is something that we are jumping right in on because it's very important, you know, where to go, that is a common question. People in their own communities. I can't tell you how many times I've heard some folks say I never really checked out this land trust, but that's down the street, that it's a really cool nature, walks, trailheads. My kids loved it. It's not these monster hikes in the whites that the trail goesdirectly uphill at like 25 percent grade. And so people are realizing in their localities what they reside next to and it's a pretty cool thing. So you know what we want to do at Granite Outdoor, we are working on this with a group called Trail Finder, is developing this sort of mapping information. So it's not just where the next trail head, but it's also what are the other amenities in that area, that locality, that is part of the full experience, because that's what lifestyle is. It's not just going to the trailhead, it's where you're getting your breakfast sandwich before you go out, or your microspike blew out and you a need new one, so where are you going to go to restock.

Laura Knoy:
And this idea of broadening the circle is something that you talked about earlier, too, Kelly, you know, trying to get Vermonters and Vermont visitors away from just going to Stowe, for example. I want to ask you, Kelly, though, about another conversation that I hear a lot in environmental circles. And this is why hiking and camping and skiing, in particular, are such white spaces, and that if conservation groups and outdoor businesses really want future generations to care about outdoor places, to care about wild places, if companies that are building, you know, socks or micro spikes or backpacks, want customers in the future, they have to be part of the effort to make outdoor spaces, wild places accessible and welcome to everyone. So what are you hearing, Kelly, in Vermont, in the circles you travel, about making nature in general more welcoming to people of color?

Kelly Ault:
Yes, I'm so glad that you brought up this aspect of the conversation, going back to what Tyler was describing. We have set the tone in Vermont that if it's out, it's in. Meaning we really want to support all types of outdoor recreation in all communities and allow communities to really be part of that decision making and drive how they want to grow the sector. But part of that is also about the participation and how can we recognize the long overdue lack of access and opportunity in outdoor spaces, as well as an outdoor in workplaces for black, indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ communities and those that have different abilities. And businesses in Vermont and across the country have been driving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, in particular in workspaces. They've been assessing their organization, their marketing, their operations, their leadership ladders and really trying to learn from that and apply changes to how they hire, how they train, how they produce product catalogs. For example, companies are more and more and more using black athletes and ambassadors in their product catalogs. But they're also backing this up with commitments for change within the organization. This is not a tokenism approach. There is a true and genuine commitment to wanting to increase the visibility and therefore increase access and support and make spaces welcoming not only in the workplace, but in the outdoors. We've had companies like Burton Snowboards and Darn Tough hire diversity executives, so they're literally putting people on their leadership teams that can help develop action plans and make change that is enduring. And this is not an issue that's going to go away. It's one, like the sustainability movement, within the outdoor industry that is here to stay. And it's a really important part of our future. We also have businesses who are partnering with organizations that are working to reduce those barriers in the outdoors due to a myriad of factors that might be related to race. But it could also be culture or income. And to really figure out what we can do together to make spaces more welcoming and put the structure in place to have a more inclusive experience for all Vermonters and all visitors that want to be in the outdoors and enjoy what we have to offer.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we did a whole program on this back in the spring, I think it was, everything is kind of blurring together. But I would invite listeners to check out that program for more on that topic because it's a big one. We're going to take a very quick break now. When we come back, we'll talk about climate change, eco-tourism and a lot more with our guests.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today i\on The Exchange, we're looking at the outdoor recreation economy, what it looks like, what are its strengths and weaknesses and what does it need to be healthier and stronger in the future? Exchange listeners, what do you think? What's the best way to leverage the state's beautiful outdoors, not just for visitors coming in, but for everybody? As we've heard, New Hampshire's environment has turned out to be a good marketing tool for the state's businesses. Taylor Caswell is with us, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs. Also, Tyler Ray, his company, Backyard Concept, is the managing entity of Granite Outdoor Alliance. And Kelly Ault, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. Sarah in West Chesterfield, emailed. She says, Are you concerned that climate change is altering the climate in New Hampshire, making the summers warmer, less snowfall in the winter and more droughts? Are you involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and therefore preserve the climate in New Hampshire? Sarah, I'm so glad you wrote, and Tyler I'm going to throw that one to you, please.

Tyler Ray:
So the answer is absolutely. Of course, that is a top of the agenda item, along with several other items. And so, you know, the way I need to answer this question as it is an opportunity for us to engage on an issue with the user base and the businesses. That said, it's you know, this is this is this is a great question because it illustrates the broad bite of what is facing not just the outdoor industry, but everyone, everywhere in where we live, we have issues happening. And the weather is really one of the most obvious examples. We also have, you know, quite a slew of other issues that have really revealed their ugly head here since the pandemic. We have housing issue. We have workforce issues. We have child care issues. We have broadband issues. We have the kind of long and this is why we're stepping up at Granite Outdoor. And we need to tackle these issues in a collaborative and meaningful way. And the way we are approaching this and I want to make sure I get this out as we are a membership based organization and we're very much a bottom-up organization taking a grassroots approach that certainly we are in our infancy, but we are asking businesses to join us to allow us to be a voice for them because that voice does not currently exist.

Tyler Ray:
There are, as I mentioned, there are a number of industries that make up the outdoor industry, and they all represent things like retail, manufacturing, as we already discussed. But there's no outdoor specific voice. So we need help. We have a lot we have a giant list that I just listed off; that list is long and it's important for folks to, you know, very much like... I'll draw an analogy. There's there's a there's a group, a very successful nonprofit organization, 1% for the Planet. What that means is they're asking businesses to donate one percent of their income to this organization, that then gets distributed to nonprofits and other environmental oriented groups. And on its face, you look at that like that's that's that's wild, one percent, you know, some of these corporations are giant - that's a big chunk of money. But it's happening and it's successful, and so there's environmental shift happening.

Tyler Ray:
So we take a similar approach. We're asking businesses to join us to build consensus. We need to have network impact and able to drive policy through businesses. And that's a really important point. So when we talk about things like climate change, as of right now, that's that's part of a larger conversation. And for us to roll up our sleeves and go nitty-gritty on specific issues that's difficult because we still need to build consensus and coalition among New Hampshire businesses. So those businesses that are out there listening and those individuals and families are out listening where we're attempting to build a coalition, a community, statewide community, that has a voice. You know, New Hampshire has a fragmentation problem because you have a lot of different actors and a lot of different areas of the state. But if we can join together and make an effort to do this together, then we will make progress and be able to tackle issues like climate change head on.

Laura Knoy:
So that's another aim or goal of Granite Outdoor Alliance. Wow, it's a big portfolio, you've got a lot before you. Yeah, but it has to be done. So, speaking of investments, I did want to ask you, Kelly, last week, Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced an enormous investment in the outdoor economy, nearly 22 million dollars. So what are you going to do with it, Kelly?

Kelly Ault:
Well, we still have a long road to go before it is made into a reality. The governor's budget for fiscal year 2022 does propose a series of one time investments in outdoor recreation infrastructure. It's part of a 113 million dollar community and economic development package. So already with that framing, we're talking about how we invest in communities and our landscape in order to reap economic vitality down the road. So it is an exciting recovery strategy, but it's a way to invest resources that we have that will pay dividends for all Vermont communities. It does expand the LORAC community grants, as I mentioned earlier. So it's giving it directly to communities. It's helping to improve access to state lands and trail networks and even provide grants to some of the nonprofit organizations that are responsible for managing landowner relationships. And some of these partnerships that are so critical to what we've been talking about. It also has funding for things like new cabins in state parks. We've seen a lot of people want to camp. They want to stay in cabins and huts and we're seeing the high demand and think that's going to be a trend for the future. So it's exciting, but really it is a strategy for a long-term recovery. We're able to really strengthen our brand for marketing and we are able to be attractive to employers and their employees as a place to live because we have these resources in our communities.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, I heard about those cabins, Kelly. And you know, the idea we talked earlier about making the outdoors more accessible. Some people don't know how to camp, don't want to camp, don't want to buy all the equipment, but they sure would like to get out in the state park. So I know Vermont, New Hampshire have been building some more of these cabins in state parks for people who aren't, you know, aren't really sure if they want to go the full tent experience. Speaking of funding, Commissioner Caswell, New Hampshire just recently got a federal grant to support its new outdoors recreation office. So what's that money going to be for?

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
So that resource is going to be used to establish the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development, here within BEA, to do all the things that we've been talking about. So they're going to be a very busy individual, working in coordination with our economic development team at the BEA as well as our travel tourism team, and really kind of taking the opportunity to start to integrate all these parties and work with the private sector like Tyler's organization and others, to kind of bring that fragmentation that Tyler was talking about together into a little bit more of a cohesive sense to it. Because there are just so many different issues and we've been through a whole ton of them here, and it could become overwhelming pretty quickly. But it's really critical that we be able to get at least this office established to start dealing with these issues and partnering with organizations around the state, including, you know, the U.S. Forest Service. A big, huge chunk of our outdoor recreation experience in New Hampshire is in the millions of acres of the White Mountain National Forest, some of the most beautiful places on the planet. And they're dealing with a lot of the same issues that that we've been talking about as well, in terms of usage and education and really looking at experiences that have occurred in other places around the country.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
So you look at the Grand Tetons or in Colorado and a lot of areas, they're experiencing these things as well and take advantage of a national entity like the Forest Service as a partner with our work is going to be critical. So, yeah, I mean, it will be used for that purpose. It's going to have some additional resources to it to be able to provide that collaboration. But it's a good it's a good and important step for the state.

Laura Knoy:
Well, so I hear you. So given, you know, some of the tensions that we talked about, people in some communities feeling like, you know, it's overused. Given the desire that people have to move to beautiful places. It sounds like this new office, Commissioner Caswell, is going to maybe provide an information service, be sort of a broker. I mean, is that the role for this new office? And by the way, when is it opening up?

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
It's I mean, I would call it kind of a strategic collaborator, I mean, to begin with. It's really, as I pointed out, and we've got a lot of other state entities that interplay with this, so it's internal and external. So you've got like Fish and Game and you've got the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources which has the state parks and the Trails Bureau. And they've all got great people already doing a lot of this type of work. So we're not trying to overwhelm the work that they're doing, but really sort of provide an opportunity for that connection to all the partners that I talked about. So the position is actually open now for internal candidates, which is what we do in state government. I've got a website up. It's NH Economy.com/ORID as in outdoor recreation industry development, where you can kind of get some information with job description and and how to apply once that's going to be available probably within another week or two.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, we've definitely hit a nerve with this topic because I'm not going have a chance to read all the emails. That's a good problem to have, but I really appreciate everybody writing. Here's Sherri in Deerfield who's kind of raising themes that we talked about before, but we're hearing this from a lot of listeners. So here's Sherri: I live right near Pawtuckaway State Park. During the beginning of the pandemic, there were over 100 cars in a parking area that usually has less than 10. We couldn't hike there. Now, Pawtuckaway is going to require a permit to hike. Sherri asks, why would we continue to invite out-of-staters here and compromise New Hampshire residents access to our own backyard resources? Tyler, I'm going to throw that to you, but I'm going to ask you to be quick on it, because I've got another email I want to share. Go ahead.

Tyler Ray:
So this is this is a huge opportunity. I want to tie my answer in with Commissioner Caswell's new posting for the outdoor director position. This is the next step. The pieces are there across the country. He mentioned all the state aspects of government. Now we need to jump in and tackle the policy. You know, the way the way these nonprofit system works right now is how many bake sales are needed before there's enough funding to make progress. Right? There's no funding mechanism available out there right now. So you have these parking lot problems that Sherri mentioned. And that's a big issue because guess what? Those parking lots have been there for what, 50, 80 years. Who knows?They're antiquated. There's not any social innovation related to how this parking lots should be in current day. So New Hampshire is outdoor economy is 3.2 Percent of our overall economy. And when we look at what the reinvestment by the state, back into this state, back into the economy based on that's 3.2 percent, which is the ninth highest in the country, we're second to last and reinvestment in outdoor infrastructure. So that's why you have these problems of parking lots getting full and Sherri being disrupted in a residential neighborhood.

Laura Knoy:
So that's hopefully what your group Granite Outdoor Alliance, and with this new office at the state level, may be mediating and looking at some of those issues. We got a nice email from Rob, by the way, who says, I moved here recently from Oregon. And I've been surprised by the lack of government funded trail access. Some of the best trails I found in New Hampshire have been on privately donated land. State and local governments, Rob says, are missing a huge opportunity to provide opportunities for young people to fall in love with the outdoors. Maybe next time we talk, we'll look at some of those more local efforts that Rob mentions.

Laura Knoy:
All of you, thank you very much for being here. Kelly, AWALT, it was great to meet you. Great to have you on the air today. That's Kelly Ault, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. And Tyler Ray, good to have you to. Thank you. We'll talk again and have fun playing in the snow. That's Tyler Ray. He's the managing editor of Granite Outdoor Alliance. Commissioner Caswell, always a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Commissioner Taylor Caswell:
You bet. Laura, tell everybody to get out there and go skiing today.

Laura Knoy:
That's Taylor Caswell, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs. Today's program was produced by NPR News host and Exchange Producer Jessica Hunt.