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Federal data report: Vermont outdoor recreation sector stood tall as significant economic driver during shutdowns of 2020

Federal data report: Vermont outdoor recreation sector stood tall as significant economic driver during shutdowns of 2020



Kelly Ault, Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance,

Jackie Dagger, Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative,

Montpelier November 18, 2021 — New national and state data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) on the economic impact of outdoor recreation in 2020 confirms that Vermont’s outdoor sector remained a significant driver of the state’s economy, both during and after the onset of the COVID pandemic.

According to the BEA data that measures spending generated by activities from snow sports to fishing, camping, hiking, boating, and bicycling, the contribution of Vermont’s outdoor recreation to state gross domestic product (GDP) was ranked the 3rd highest in the nation in 2020, only a slight drop from its position as the 2nd highest state in 2019 at 5.2%.

Nationally, BEA found outdoor recreation accounted for $688 billion in gross output (consumer spending). For Vermont, the data validated outdoor recreation’s significant role in the State’s economic recovery, despite the limitations of the pandemic.

In Vermont, the BEA data is being analyzed and distributed by the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA), a private sector-led nonprofit organization, and the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC), a public/private initiative of the Scott Administration. These groups are working together to strengthen Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy, environmental stewardship, and human wellness.

“Throughout the outdoor sector, there were bright spots and hard hits in 2020, but the big takeaway is that outdoor recreation was an essential economic foundation throughout the pandemic,” said Kelly Ault, Executive Director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. “VOBA fully expects that next year’s 2021 data will show widespread growth in all categories, as this resilient sector plays a key role in Vermont’s recovery.”

Many Vermonters -- including those new to the outdoors and historically underrepresented populations -- turned to the outdoors as a place for recreation during the pandemic.

“The state of Vermont saw record breaking participation in outdoor recreation activities and use of Vermont State Parks in 2020. Our parks welcomed well over 1 million visitors, the highest visitation rate since 1988 and the fifth highest in Vermont’s history,” said Michael Snyder, Chair of the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative and Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. “Participation numbers reaffirm the state’s recent historic investments in outdoor recreation, which have included over $20 million directed by Governor Scott to fund outdoor recreation grant programs, supporting recreational infrastructure on state lands and the Vermont Trail System, major maintenance and access enhancements in state parks and state forests, and the construction of new rustic cabins in state parks.”

Vermont’s investments in local communities that are building their economies with outdoor recreation at the center will improve stewardship in places that saw high use during the pandemic as well as support new access for residents and visitors to enjoy Vermont’s world-class outdoor assets for decades to come.

Michael DeBonis, Executive Director of the Green Mountain Club, said, “Despite the long winter and lengthy stay-at-home mandate in 2020, the Long Trail system saw a 35% increase in use, and the number of people completing end-to-end hikes of the 273-mile Long Trail nearly doubled. As those strong numbers rolled right into 2021, it’s increasingly clear that we have our work cut out for us as a state to keep our trails great.”

Nick Bennette, Executive Director of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association, said, “The onset of pandemic stay-at-home orders overlapped with the traditional start to our trail-riding season, resulting in a huge drop in trail use. By mid-summer, however, usage and membership had wholly rebounded - and then some - ultimately leading to 12% in year-over-year membership growth and trail systems at and sometimes beyond capacity. Two-thirds of members we surveyed said trail riding meant more to them in 2020 due to the pandemic, underscoring the critical role outdoor recreation plays in promoting both physical and emotional health.”

The uptick in participation led to higher demand for products. Vermont’s outdoor retailers and manufacturers experienced exceptionally strong sales over the past year, despite the closure and shortened hours of many businesses during the “stay safe, stay home” orders of spring 2020. According to the BEA, sales of outdoor gear and equipment increased 4% from 2019 to 2020. However, the pandemic impacted various types of outdoor businesses differently and businesses that relied on out-of-state tourism are still struggling to recover.

Mark Yardley, Vice President of Global Omni Channel for Darn Tough Vermont®, said, “By the middle of March 2020 we made the decision to send everyone home from our Northfield and Waterbury facilities. This was a low point for us after just finishing a record year in 2019. By the middle of April we were running a skeleton crew to make our military socks. In June we figured out how to manage our direct-to-consumer business in a COVID-friendly way. By August we didn’t know how we were going to keep up with demand. We worked in survival mode while staying focused on morale.”

Sam Hooper, President of Vermont Glove, said, “In early 2020, we had the ability to transition to manufacturing protective face masks at a time when no one could get any. That kept our lights on as a business and also shined a bright light for consumers on the importance of domestic supply chains and manufacturing. Unfortunately, when the holidays came around we were blindsided by demand levels for our traditional glove products that we could not keep up with because we weren't able to build the inventory during our personal protective equipment push. The pandemic has definitely exposed the fragility of the supply chain as well as many of the unsustainable aspects of our business community. While that has been humbling for many sectors and brands I see it as an opportunity for real change.”

The BEA data also highlighted some areas needing improvement for Vermont, such as workforce development. Vermont already ranked among the lowest of all the states in 2019 for number of employees, wages and compensation and the BEA data showed a further slide in 2020. Total jobs decreased from 19,589 (2019) to 13,256 (2020) with most of the jobs lost falling on retail, accommodations, and food services. Percentage of total wages and salaries dropped to 4.4% and compensation to 2.8%. As hiring continues to be a challenge, workforce development efforts underway strive to enable outdoor companies to hire for critical occupations, build career pathways with high paying jobs and compensation, and help retain and attract outdoor companies to the state.


The Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA) is a nonprofit business organization that networks, educates, collaborates, and provides support to businesses, organizations, and individuals working to strengthen, expand, attract, and retain outdoor recreation economy businesses in Vermont. 

VOBA’s mission is to educate Vermonters about outdoor recreation and to educate Vermont outdoor recreation businesses about business development initiatives, outdoor recreation economy policy and justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. VOBA’s priority areas for 2022 include financing, workforce development, infrastructure, and sector branding. For more info:

ABOUT VOREC                                         

The Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) was established in 2017 by an executive order of Governor Scott as a public/private initiative to leverage Vermont’s outdoor recreation assets, to drive economic development in the outdoor sector and help grow Vermont’s economy.                                                                          

VOREC’s five goals are to grow outdoor recreation-related businesses; increase participation in outdoor recreation activities among all demographics; strengthen the quality and extent of outdoor recreation resources; increase stewardship of outdoor recreation resources and environmental quality; and promote and enjoy the health and wellness benefits of outdoor recreation. For more info: Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative