Vermont Gov. Phil Scott declared June Great Outdoors Month last week at Elmore State Park.
Governor Phil Scott came back to his sometime childhood home on the shores of Lake Elmore last Thursday to encourage more people to get outside and take advantage of what is perhaps Vermont’s most valuable resource: itself.
“We have a shared respect and appreciation for our landscape and our great Vermont outdoors,” Scott said during a press conference in Elmore State Park. “We understand that our forests, fields, mountains, lakes and rivers provide enjoyment and economic benefit to our state, our residents, as well as our visitors here.”
Scott said Vermont has 850,000 acres of public land available for all manner of outdoor recreation, and 8,000 miles of trails.
“That’s equal to walking to California and back with enough left over to hike the entire Appalachian Trail,” he said.
Thursday’s press conference served a couple of purposes — actually, three, as reporters from several Vermont media outlets pressed the governor on a potential government shutdown.
In a somewhat drizzly day that has proven the anomaly over the past month, Scott proclaimed the month of June, 2018 as Great Outdoors Month. The proclamation, in part, reads, “Our kids today spend an average of 10 hours a day in front of a screen and outdoor activity is touted by many leading health organizations as a remedy for the adverse effects caused by our increasing inactivity.”
The question is how to get more people outside, and Scott was joined by Vermont State Parks director Craig Whipple and Julie Moore, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Whipple quipped that sometimes it takes a little “gimmick” to encourage people to get outdoors.
Some of those include making parks passes available at libraries all over the state — you check them out the same way you would a book or a DVD — or offering doctors special prescription pads that they can fill out and give to patients, giving them a free day pass.
Noting that one of the biggest barriers to camping is buying all the gear, the parks department is also launching a “first time happy camper” program that supplies all the necessary gear and a day pass to one of five parks in the pilot program: Bomoseen, Button Bay, Grand Isle, Stillwater and Woodford.
Moore used the governor’s press conference to talk about the new Venture Vermont Outdoor Challenge, a scavenger hunt of sorts where participants score points for all manner of outdoor activity.
Most activities score 5 or 10 points. Reach 250 points and you get a day pass good for any state park for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019.
“Literally, we have a little something for everybody, whether it’s camping, swimming, hiking, fishing, boating or picnicking, all of these opportunities are available across Vermont’s state parks,” Moore said.
This being the governor’s weekly press conference, most journalists in attendance were there to press Scott on one issue: does the administration have a contingency plan if he and lawmakers cannot come to an agreement on a statewide budget and tax plan by the end of this month?
The next fiscal year begins July 1, and many government agencies won’t be able to operate without a budget in place. That includes the state parks.
Scott refused to be pinned down, saying he is confident the two sides will reach an agreement, but stopping short of saying he would sign a budget or announce contingency plans.
The News & Citizen had a question more related to the venue and the previous outdoors initiatives: how is the funding for the cleaning of rivers and lakes, including ones in the very state parks being touted?
Lake Elmore, for one, is not in danger of becoming unusable, said Scott.
Moore said the state has allocated 75 percent more money for clean water initiatives than the previous two fiscal years. She added state parks employees are also going to assess the health of the waterways in their parks.
More information on the Venture Vermont Outdoor Challenge: vtstateparks.com.