Outdoor Recreation Roundtable workshop

Image Credit: Joel Vandekrol

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Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Announces Recipients of 2023 Rural Implementation Grants


Outdoor Recreation Roundtable announced the recipients of grant funding to help rural communities grow their local economies and make them more resilient through outdoor recreation. These grants are made possible through funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and help ensure that ORR can continue its charge to provide support, information, and resources to rural communities seeking to create economic opportunities through outdoor recreation.

This is the second cohort of recipients since the grant’s launch in 2021. In 2023, grant sizes increased to $10,000 and will provide in-kind technical assistance from ORR members to awardees. For communities with big plans and limited bandwidth, this funding will help to unlock federal, state, and local match dollars from programs like USDA Rural Development, state infrastructure funds, and interest from private foundations.

“Rural communities all across the country are recognizing the strength and resiliency that investment in outdoor recreation can bring to local economies,” said Jessica Wahl Turner, president of ORR. “Thanks to the ongoing support of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, more places and people than ever will have the opportunity to experience the benefits of time spent outside. ORR is grateful for their support, congratulates the grantees, and looks forward to celebrating the amazing projects that are borne from this funding.”

“ARC is pleased that the Appalachian community of Hartwell, Georgia, is among the communities that will benefit from the latest round of ORR rural implementation grants,” said Gayle Manchin, Appalachian Regional Commission federal co-chair. “This grant will not only impact the region’s economy by boosting the outdoor recreation industry, but will continue ARC’s founding mission of connecting underserved communities to broader opportunities. I look forward to seeing the Hartwell area’s history honored and natural landscape enjoyed as the trail system continues to grow.”

“The beauty of the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program is in the way it rallies communities to celebrate the recreation assets they have and forms consensus on how to build upon those foundations. ORR’s award to Marshfield, Vermont, is both incredibly impactful and timely given the historic flooding Vermont endured this summer,” said Chris Saunders, federal co-chair of the Northern Border Regional Commission. “During the RERC process, the town clearly identified the Cross-Vermont Trail as an asset it wants to utilize to strengthen the local economy. By awarding the town funds to rebuild a key section of the trail, ORR is not just helping the town and state recover sooner, but is ensuring this asset can continue to be a cornerstone of the town’s vision for a vibrant recreation economy.”

“EPA is so pleased that ORR and the Richard King Mellon Foundation are supporting our RERC community partners as they seek to boost outdoor recreation and main street revitalization,” said Steph Bertaina, manager of the RERC program at EPA’s office of community revitalization. “These implementation grants will help these communities jumpstart their plans to build resilient, diverse outdoor recreation economies while protecting natural resources and the environment.”

“The U.S. Forest Service is committed to helping rural communities realize the economic and health benefits of forests. We are proud to partner with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Northern Border Regional Commission, and Appalachian Regional Commission to provide technical assistance to help communities grow their outdoor recreation economy and revitalize their main streets,” said Alice Ewen, assistant director of cooperative forestry, landowner assistance. “ORR’s support is a big boost that helps communities take early action on their plans to attract investment and strengthen local economies and we’re excited to see what the newly awarded communities will accomplish in the coming months and years.”

A description of communities and their projects can be found below.

Marshfield, Vermont (Population: 1,492) will use its grant to restore a 1.1 mile section of the Cross-Vermont Trail that was destroyed by the catastrophic flooding across Vermont in July 2023. The trail offers numerous recreation opportunities, from horseback riding and cross-country skiing to walking and biking, and will connect to a 2,100-acre parcel owned by Forest Farmers, a local sugaring operation which aims to build a trail network through their RERC plans. This trail provides significant recreation opportunities for the community, particularly for low-income and elderly residents who may have a more difficult time accessing other recreation opportunities. Additionally, Marshfield is within the region of focus for the Northern Border Regional Commission.

“The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable grant will be very useful in helping repair the recent stormwater damage done to a 1.1 mile section of Cross Vermont Trail in Marshfield,” said Richard Baker, selectboard chair for the town of Marshfield. “This grant will be leveraged with another $10,000 grant from the Cross-Vermont Trail Association and other private funding sources.”

Butte, Montana (Population: 34,768) will utilize its grant to create a centralized/primary information website to provide information about area recreation activities and opportunities for both residents and out-of-town visitors. Following a decline in the copper mining industry and a history of pollution, Butte is seeking to both invest in the health of its natural resources and build a new reputation as a hub for recreation opportunities in the West. The website and associated marketing plan will broadcast myriad recreation opportunities near Butte, including motorized use, trail activities like hiking and biking on the Great American Rail Trail, and Continental Divide Trail, fishing, hunting, winter sports, rock climbing, and camping.

“This Outdoor Recreation Roundtable grant will allow us to tackle one of the top action items identified during our recent RERC workshop,” said Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow community development director. “We look forward to working with our community partners to promote the numerous recreational opportunities in Butte and the surrounding area!”

Hartwell, Georgia (Population: 4,503) will use its grant to create a plaque and marker that designates the beginning of a trail that connects its downtown and Lake Hartwell, a popular destination for boating and fishing. The plaque will celebrate the namesake of the county, Nancy Hart, and the region’s significance to the Cherokee people. The trail system will run through a historically segregated African American community that is both disconnected from the lake and the downtown due to a lack of sidewalk infrastructure, and the plaque will help the community retain its history and small town feel as it gains recognition as an outdoor recreation destination. Additionally, Hartwell is within the region of focus for the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“This generous gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation through the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable will help us take the first step to implementing our vision associated with the EPA’s Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program,” said Jon Herschell, Hartwell city manager. “Hartwell is blessed to have a vibrant historic downtown, and incredible outdoor amenities. With this gift, we will begin connecting these assets in order to have a more sustainable future for our residents and visitors.”

Yreka, California (Population: 7,826) will use its grant to position the Jefferson Mountain Bike Co. as a central hub for the community with contemporary renovations, and develop a curated marketing campaign and dedicated online booking to appeal to travelers along the Interstate 5 corridor between San Francisco and Portland. This grant will help unlock support from the Siskiyou County Economic Development Council and Discover Siskiyou, who work collaboratively to support regional business development. Jefferson Mountain Biking Co. will address barriers to access by increasing accessibility to equipment and mountain-bike workshop activities for low-income youth.

“We are so grateful to ORR, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and RERC for the opportunity to accelerate Yreka’s outdoor recreation economy. It was important to our team that this funding be directed to a business that not only benefits Yreka’s outdoor recreation economy, but that exemplifies community leadership and innovation,” said Tonya Dowse, executive director of Siskiyou County Economic Development Council. “This award for Jefferson Mountain Bike Co., and shop owner Bill Robberson, builds on the goals of our RERC action plan, by accelerating the shop’s efforts to create a memorable destination, and connect community and visitors to our awe-inspiring outdoors.”