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Senator Says Pandemic Skyrocketed Outdoor Recreation Tourism In Upstate NY, BUT Fed Support For This Economic Driver Has Not Kept Up, Stifling Opportunity For Further Growth In The Over $21B NY Outdoor Rec Industry That Provides 240K+ NY Jobs

Schumer’s Rural Outdoor Investment Act Would Give Columbia County’s Rural Communities The $$$ Needed For Outdoor Infrastructure, Planning, And Business Assistance To Drive Tourism & Revitalize Downtowns

Schumer: It Is Time To Hike Up Funding For Columbia County’s Outdoor Economies; ROI Act Will Be A Breath Of Fresh Air To Help Main Streets Blossom 

Standing at the iconic Empire State Trail, the best rail trail in America, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched his new Rural Outdoor Investment (ROI) Act to boost outdoor recreation in places like Columbia County and the Capital Region, support Main Street businesses, revitalize Upstate New York’s rural downtowns, and accelerate the region’s economic recovery. Flanked by community leaders and outdoor enthusiasts, Schumer explained that the pandemic spurred newfound demand for outdoor recreation and that this creates a unique opportunity for the federal government to invest in local economies, like those in Columbia County along the Empire State Trail and the Hudson River, by investing in their natural outdoor resources to create jobs and new economic growth.

“More and more people are recognizing the tremendous natural beauty of places like Columbia County, and the federal government should recognize that investing in outdoor recreation is investing in the future of these rural and scenic communities,” said Senator Schumer. “From increasing access to Kinderhook’s picturesque views and bolstering our unmatched trails to supporting the businesses that are the foundation of the tourism economy, my Rural Outdoor Investment Act can jump-start the Capital Region’s economic recovery in our rural areas, help local businesses grow, and give a breath of fresh air to our Main Streets. It is time to hike up federal resources to our rural communities, boosting tourism, supporting small businesses, and strengthening our local economies.”

Schumer explained that New York State’s outdoor recreation industry generates over $21 billion in added economic activity, $15.9 billion in wages and salaries, and in 2020 alone created and supported over 241,000 direct jobs. 

Schumer said that his ROI Act would create a blueprint for long-desired federal support needed to boost the outdoor industry. The legislation focuses on three core areas to promote growth in the outdoor recreation economy in places like Columbia County:

1.     Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure which the senator said has been historically underfunded, but remains one of the most vital parts in sustaining businesses and attracting interest to outdoor areas. Schumer said that Columbia County’s communities have long desired to expand access to their beautiful scenery and view of the Catskills but have lacked the infrastructure investment to begin development.

The senator said the ROI Act addresses this issue by providing $150 million over five years for public works through the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to fund this critical component of the outdoor economy, boosting construction funding for assets like boat ramps, trails, campgrounds and other outdoor facilities. Schumer also highlighted U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Alternatives program, which was funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and through which New York is expected to receive an estimated $289 million over five years to run a competitive grant program. The senator said that this program can help connect rural communities in the Capital Region and across Upstate New York by funding trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, and greenways, strengthening our downtowns by allowing for tourists and residents to more easily flow between areas and enjoy outdoor recreation.

2.     Planning support to communities that want to grow outdoor recreation opportunities to foster economic activity, bring in money to local businesses, and revitalize their downtowns. To this end, the ROI Act provides $25 million over five years for planning grants through EDA for communities to create recreation economy plans that optimize their natural opportunities, including marketing, branding, business development, fundraising, and tourism management. Schumer said that this support perfectly aligns with ongoing efforts of groups like the Columbia Economic Development Corporation to boost tourism and long-term economic development in Columbia County and across the Capital Region. In addition, the legislation includes $12.5 million over five years for university partnerships to promote research, education and technical assistance to local stakeholders and businesses so they can better capitalize on opportunities in the outdoor recreation economy.

3.     Business Assistance for recreation-related businesses such as outdoor gear and equipment rentals, shuttles, guides and outfitters, in addition to hotels, restaurants and retail needed to support the direct and indirect industries that are essential to making outdoor economy-based communities more sustainable. The ROI Act directly invests $62.5 million over five years for the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program, carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development in coordination with the Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, to provide grants for planning and main street revitalization through outdoor recreation. The ROI Act also promotes collaboration between the Economic Development Administration, USDA Rural Development, and Small Business Administration to educate communities and businesses about existing federal resources like grants and business loans. 

Funding and technical assistance provided through the ROI Act could also support the region’s existing outdoor recreation business ecosystem, which includes major destinations and businesses such as Velo Domestique, Saisonnier, Kinderhook Knitting Mill, Kinderhook Bottle Shop and more.

Schumer’s effort builds on his successful inclusion of a $750 million set-aside to support the travel, tourism, and the outdoor recreation economy as part of the American Rescue Plan’s $3 billion for the Economic Development Administration (EDA). New York has been awarded close to $45 million in a direct state allocation to support investments in travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation across the state. Schumer said this model for economic development and revitalization has been successful across Upstate New York, including the Empire State Trail, parts of the Finger Lakes Wine Trail and other areas like Lake Placid that have leveraged natural attractions to spur economic activity, which then spills over to the entire community.

Schumer was joined by Michael Abrams, Village of Kinderhook Mayor; Timothy Ooms, Kinderhook Town Supervisor; Assemblymember Jake Ashby; Ron Gainer, owner of Velo Domestique; Patrick Kenny, co-owner of Saisonnier; Darren Waterston, owner/developer of Kinderhook Knitting Mill and Morningbird; Liz Cottingham, co-owner of Kinderhook Bottle Shop; and representatives from Columbia Economic Development Corporation, Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.