Vermont parks logoWith a camp fire crackling in a fire ring and a canopy set up over a pair of picnic tables at a campsite in Little River State Park near Waterbury, Vt., the state’s Forests, Parks and Recreation staff built the case Wednesday (Oct. 28) for future capital investments in the park system.

Commissioner Jason Gibbs and his staff argued that parks are an economic engine that attracted 730,000 visitors this year despite a rainy start, employed 250 seasonal staff and are pumping $5.5 million into the economy through capital project expenditures, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Gibbs said 136 projects were under way thanks to the special appropriation for capital construction approved by the Legislature. Much of the work — such as the construction of a nearby rental cabin — began after visitors departed the parks in early fall. Some projects — such as the installation of 30 solar hot water panels — will take place in the spring.

“The idea was to move the money into the marketplace,” Gibbs said. The department selected projects that could be designed, bid and begun quickly. There’s plenty more work that could be done, Gibbs noted — a $50 million backlog of maintenance and rehabilitation.

“We are ready to do again what we are doing right now,” Gibbs told three legislators who turned out on a misty day for the briefing. “In terms of being a tool for sustained economy activity, we are even more prepared.”

The department has developed prototypes for some of its projects, such as the toilet and shower buildings in campgrounds. “We spent a lot of time studying the design,” said Frank Spaulding, park projects coordinator.

Gibbs took visitors to the site where a new shower building will soon sit. It is situated so its solar panels will get the most sun exposure. The panels will heat the hot water for the showers, and any excess heat will flow through pipes in the flooring.

Nearby, a stack of beams sat ready for the strong arms of the parks conservation crew that had taken a break to eat lunch. The beams are the base for one of three rental cabins that will be built in the next few weeks at Little River.

As is the case for the shower buildings, the department has developed a prototype for its rental cabins that makes their construction quick — seven days once the foundation work is complete, said Michael Liker, crew supervisor.

Rep. Linda Myers, R-Essex, asked about accommodating recreational trailers.

Gibbs said none of the state’s campgrounds offers electrical hookups at campsites, which is what many people with trailers want. He said he’d like to test the impact of putting electricity at a few sites, starting at Ascutney State Park.

“We would like to have the conversation,” Gibbs said. “We aren’t proposing to fundamentally alter the natural experience in our parks.”

Gibbs suggested he would also like to talk to lawmakers about funding playgrounds at more parks.

Craig Whipple, parks director, explained the importance of playgrounds. “That is our market, families with young kids.”