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Northam announces increased funding for outdoor recreation in new budget

virginia politics
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Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a two-year budget that will include nearly $245 million for outdoor recreation and Virginia’s world-renowned natural lands.

The new funding will help significantly expand Virginia’s network of regional trails, Virginia State Parks, and the Office of Outdoor Recreation.

“Virginia is home to a robust outdoor recreation economy, with 41 state parks and more than 450 miles of recreational paths,” Northam said. “Our natural assets draw tens of thousands of visitors each year, opening up countless opportunities for economic development across Virginia. This increased funding will make significant progress towards both preserving the beauty of Virginia’s landscape and ensuring that this critical industry continues to thrive for years to come.”

This funding will go towards supporting existing trails as well as developing new trails like the Eastern Shore, Shenandoah, and Fall Line trails. The budget proposal will also ensure that the Office of Outdoor Recreation, launched by Northam in 2019 with the goal of coordinating outdoor recreation efforts across multiple state agencies, will have funding to support two full-time employees.

“Active transportation is a critical component of our multimodal transportation network, providing the final link to schools, workplaces, and transit stops,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Not only do Virginia’s regional trails create safer alternatives for existing pedestrians and cyclists, they also attract thousands of non-local visitors each year, significantly enhancing economic development prospects for the localities they pass through.”

Outdoor recreation employs more than 197,000 people and contributes an estimated $22 billion to our economy. This industry also generates $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenues. Visitation to Virginia State Parks increased 13 percent in 2020, with nearly 8 million visits. Some of the Commonwealth’s natural area preserves doubled the number of visitors compared to pre-pandemic numbers, and these increases have continued in 2021.

Virginia is also home to a number of trails that have a sizable economic impact, including the Capital Trail, running from Richmond to Williamsburg, the New River Trail from Galax to Pulaski, and the Creeper Trail from White Top and Abingdon. The Capital Trail and the New River Trail generate $9 million and $28 million respectively in annual economic impact. More than half of the visitors to the Creeper Trail are coming from outside the area, boosting Virginia’s tourism revenue.

“Outdoor recreation provides an important boost to local economies,” said Senator Emmett Hanger, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly. “When a community has a multi-use trail, or a state park or forest, it is not only a draw for visitors, it improves the quality of life for those who live there. These investments will ensure more access to Virginia’s beautiful landscape for generations to come.”

“The pandemic has really highlighted how valuable our award-winning state parks and natural areas are,” said Del. David Bulova, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly. “By supporting staffing and access, we ensure that Virginians and visitors can continue to enjoy all the outdoor beauty the Commonwealth has to offer.”


augusta free press
augusta free press