Gov. Phil Scott has officially declared the unofficial start of summer by inviting people to visit Vermont’s state parks.
The invitation is part of a new initiative to make camping more attractive to people who’d prefer not to rough it.
Scott visited Little River State Park last Thursday.
“I have fond memories of camping here years ago,” when he was a child, Scott said. “While it may not feel like it, Memorial Day Weekend, which we just celebrated, marks the unofficial beginning of summer. This means a start to welcoming people to state parks, which, for the most part, are in full swing.”
With a few exceptions, the state’s parks are open to visitors. However, high water has delayed the opening for some, including Waterbury Center, Alburgh, Burton Island and Sand Bar.
And, just north of the Waterbury Center park, a landslide in the Cottonbrook area has cut off a couple of trails and is dumping sand into the 850-acre reservoir.
Scott said outdoor recreation is a huge contributor to Vermont’s $2.8 billion tourism economy, “and a primary reason why 13 million people visit the state every year, why young professionals move to Vermont and why Vermonters choose to stay in the state.”
Last year, Vermont’s state parks had more than 1 million visitors, a 45 percent increase from 10 years earlier. Among those visitors are people who might prefer a little bit of the indoors to go with their outdoors.
“There is an interest in a little more of the creature comforts,” Scott said. “Instead of sleeping on the ground in tents, a growing number of people prefer our rustic cabins with beds, chairs, four walls and a roof.”
He recalled going camping with his father, a double amputee as a result of combat during World War II.
“That lasted about one weekend. He said he’d done enough camping on the ground in the service, so we went and bought a pop-up camper instead,” Scott said. “I think he would have appreciated the camping of today.”
Scott spoke in front of one of the 45 modern cabins that are part of the state park system, each offering bunk beds, a futon, a small table, and a porch leading out to picnic tables and a fire pit. While there is no running water, there is electricity, and plenty of natural light from screened-in windows that can be closed if it gets too chilly at night.
Across the state parks, the cabins have an occupancy rate of 85 percent, compared to a 40 percent occupancy rate for all campsites in the system.
Future plans include building 20 more cabins around the state, increasing the total number from 45 to 65. The work will be performed in collaboration with the state’s regional technical centers.
“I’ve asked our Forest, Parks and Recreation Department to work with career and technical centers across the state and have students build these structures, while teaching useful, practical skills to our young people, skills that can help them prepare for well-paying, meaningful jobs,” Scott said.
Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, said locations have not been picked yet for the new cabins.
“Right now, we’re working with the tech centers, and it will depend on their interest. The cool thing is, we have parks all over the state,” Snyder said. “There’s the local economic development, there’s health and wellness benefits, family togetherness and an environmental connectedness. That’s a powerful package. The parks are one avenue to that.”
Work on the Waterbury Dam boat launch is on target to be completed by the end of June. The launch will be open during construction, except for a yet-to-be-named weekday shutdown so paving can be finished. In addition, sections of the access area will need to be closed at times for line marking and finish work.
The Blush Hill boat launch work should be finished by mid-June, and people can use the launch on weekends and evenings while the work’s being done. The presence of construction equipment will limit parking near the launch.
In the Moscow area of Stowe, paddler access improvements should start the second week in June and take about a week. During construction, the access will be open on weekends and evenings.
Green Mountain Power’s license to operate a hydropower facility at the Waterbury Dam was recently renewed by federal regulators, and as part of the relicensing, the utility company is obliged to do the boat launch work to improve recreational access.
As for the immediate future, admission to all state parks (that is, the ones that are open) will be free this weekend. Visitors will be allowed to fish without a license, and there will be free admission at all state historic sites, the Vermont History Museum in Montpelier, and the Vermont History Center in Barre.