NEWPORT — More money and organizational support will be available in 2020 for NEK towns and nonprofits working to expand or improve local trail-based outdoor recreation options.
The assistance comes thanks to a cooperative effort spearheaded by the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative (NEKC) and Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA).
The federal Northern Border Regional Commission this month awarded $250,000 to NVDA for a multi-pronged effort to grow the outdoor recreation economy in Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties.
The project will assist in marketing the region as a trail-based destination through improved mapping, business tie-ins, and multi-town connections.
One component will distribute sub-grants of $10-40,000 each to support 5 to 10 community-level projects to build trails or supporting infrastructures such as kiosks, parking, and village traffic calming.
“More than twenty towns and organizations came together to develop this project,” said Katherine Sims, NEKC Executive Director. “Cooperation was the key to our success in this highly competitive grant process.”
Last year, a task force convened by the NEKC recommended a focus on connecting community outdoor recreation assets to downtowns and food-based and creative businesses.
That was one of five major initiatives to support regional economic development presented in its report, From Strength to Strength.
Following that, the Collaborative coordinated planning meetings involving towns and other organizations across the region.
Many of them had been working on trail-based projects independently.
“Trails are often what create those connections to our downtowns and businesses, but there are many more projects in the development phase than there is funding available to build them,” said Dave Snedeker, NVDA Executive Director. “This should help address that gap.”
In addition to providing funding for specific local projects, the project will also launch the NEK Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, a working group facilitated by the NEKC.
That group will solicit project applications this fall with awards to towns and trail networks made in early 2020.
The group will also provide input on plans for marketing of existing recreational assets, as well as share best practices and lessons learned as projects are developed.