Monday November 5, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

STAFF WRITER

BENNINGTON -- Vermont is updating its Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan -- have you read it? Residents who spend any time outdoors may want to as the purpose of the plan, or "SCORP," is to assess, prioritize, and improve outdoor recreation throughout the state over the next five years.

A webinar is scheduled for Nov. 14 to allow residents further opportunity to ask questions and provide input.

"The biggest reason people should pay attention," said Ed O'Leary, director of operations at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, is the fact that the SCORP is a required component before states can receive funding through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which disburses money for public recreational purposes.

Vermont's SCORP had lapsed over the past year, according to O'Leary, but the good news is that money (approximately $700,000) was banked. Since the conservation fund began in 1965, it has funded over 650 projects across the state of Vermont through a competitive grant process -- amounting to nearly $32 million.

"The SCORP is instrumental," said O'Leary, and it also factors into other grant funding opportunities that refer to the statewide plan. A working document, the SCORP is updated every five years. With the 2013-2017 plan in draft form, Vermont officials are in the process of seeking input.

Something missing? Something not quite covered? "This is the public's opportunity to take a look at this," said O'Leary, describing the plan as a vision for Vermont. Revising the document has been a two-year process to date, involving three separate surveys of existing facilities and resources and also extensive work with major recreation and conservation groups for input.

Recreation is broadly defined, with the plan listing 28 different outdoor recreation activities with greater than 10 percent participation from all residents, including hiking, walking, hunting, fishing, and swimming.

In addition to positive health benefits, the report finds outdoor recreation also plays an important role in generating economic activity, drawing federal funds and attracting tourists. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, in 2006, outdoor recreation supported 35,000 jobs in Vermont, generated $187 million in annual state tax revenue, and produced $2.5 billion in annual retail sales and services -- accounting for 12 percent of the gross state product.

O'Leary said his prospective timetable would be to receive final public input over the next month and then incorporate those changes in December, before final submission for approval next January. According to the draft SCORP:

* A 2011 random survey of 2,000 state residents found 40.8 percent of respondents rated outdoor recreation "very" important, while an additional 32.1 percent said "moderately."

* The top five municipal priorities identified in 2011 included: parks and open space, bike/pedestrian trails, baseball/softball fields, hiking trails, and soccer fields.

* Vermonters thought the following facilities needed the most improvement: facilities for people with disabilities, off-leash dog parks, OHV/ATV trails and roads, marinas, and fishing piers.

The draft SCORP is available for review at www.vtfpr.org/recreation/scorp/info.cfm. You may also contact the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation for a printed copy. Any suggested changes, additions, or corrections should be submitted to O'Leary before Nov. 30. In addition, a webinar (available from the Website above) will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at which time a quick review of the process will be presented. The public will be provided opportunity to ask questions and provide input.