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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 Finger Lakes Communities The $$$ Needed For Outdoor Infrastructure, Planning, And Business Assistance To Drive Tourism & Revitalize Downtowns

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

With the picturesque waters of Canandaigua Lake at his back, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer revealed his new Rural Outdoor Investment (ROI) Act to boost outdoor recreation in places like the Finger Lakes, 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 small rural Finger Lakes areas, by investing in their natural outdoor resources to create jobs and new economic growth.

“Our waters and natural landscape are the beating heart of the Finger Lakes, 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 accessibility to Canandaigua’s waterfront and extending our unmatched trails to supporting the businesses that are the foundation of the tourism economy, my Rural Outdoor Investment Act can jump-start the Finger Lakes economic recovery, 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.”

Ontario County Chairman Jack Marren said, “If there was a positive to be found with the pandemic it was the increase in our population utilizing the outdoors for recreation, resulting in healthier habits.  In Victor and Ontario County we experienced an increase in use of our parks, trail system and area golf courses.  We are encouraged by Senator Schumer’s efforts with the Rural Outdoor Investment Act,  that will provide necessary funding to maintain and improve these outdoor recreational areas.  This will not only continue the momentum started with the pandemic but will greatly impact the local businesses by bringing more people to the area.”

Valerie Knoblauch, President and CEO of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection said, “Senator Schumer’s ROI Act is a welcomed stimulus opportunity for economic development, sustainable growth, and lifestyle benefits for visitors and residents of our destination. We call our Finger Lakes - Nature’s Health Club. This type of investment will remedy gaps, inspire investment, promote wellness, and provide one more tool to fulfill the demand and the need for active outdoor engagement.”

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.  In the Finger Lakes, visitors spent over $152 million on recreation pre-pandemic, contributing to the region’s $3.3 billion tourism industry, which generates over $990 million in direct labor income for over 41,000 jobs.

Schumer said that his ROI Act, which he introduced with Senator Bennet, 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 the Finger Lakes:

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 from Geneva to Canandaigua, Ontario County’s communities have long desired to expand access to their picturesque waterfronts 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 the 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 drive tourism in rural communities in the Finger Lakes 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 Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, the region’s tourism promotion agency, to boost tourism and long-term economic development across the Finger Lakes 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. 

Schumer highlighted several ‘wish list’ developments that have long been community priorities which could benefit and move forward with the dollars that would be created by Schumer’s ROI Act, including:

  • Upgrading Ontario County Parks including Deep Run Beach Park on Canandaigua Lake to add new handicap accessibility upgrades, walkways, parking access, improvements to add year-round and winter usage and to Tree Mills Park in Phelps to add new access trails through this 26-acre park along the Canandaigua Lake Outlet which is a popular destination for sport fishing and during trout season.
  • Expanding Ontario Pathways’s rail-to-trails by extending and constructing a trail in the former Peanut Line rail corridor from Canandaigua west through East and West Bloomfield. This would expand the current 23-mile trail system and meet a long-held desire to develop a westward connection for year-round usage, including for snowmobiling. The Towns as well as the Town of Victor also jointly own Boughton Park, which is in need of dam remediation, investments in restroom and dock facilities, and electrical upgrades.
  • Creating a new public municipal beach on Seneca Lake in the City of Geneva. The creation of a new municipal beach is called for in the City of Geneva’s multi-year lakefront improvement plan. In addition to the beach, projects would include a new boardwalk, pedestrian bridge, as well as walking and biking paths.
  • Building new transient boat docking along the City of Canandaigua waterfront, which would provide new boating and watercraft docks and access points along Canandaigua’s shoreline to bolster ecotourism and business development. The boating traffic would also support new, restaurants, retail, and recreation businesses along the shoreline commercial area.
  • Bolstering Honeoye Lake access to support the hamlet of Honeoye which is in need of infrastructure investments to make their boardwalk accessible, provide bicycle and pedestrian connections from the park to the hamlet, and capitalize on growth opportunities for local businesses in the hamlet.
  • Growing new jobs and expanding businesses in the Finger Lakes’ outdoor recreation economy. Recently, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection released their 5-year strategic plan blueprint to expand the region’s tourism economy, and a major goal of the plan is to capitalize on demand for outdoor recreation, including by addressing gaps in services and businesses to support the outdoor recreation economy. Schumer’s ROI Act can provide access to both the planning funded needed now by Finger Lakes Visitor Connection to undertake this planning work as well as funding to implement their recommendations.    

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 Canandaigua Sailboard, Bristol Mountain Resort, Sonnenberg Gardens, world-class marinas, 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 for many areas in New York, including 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 Jack Marren, Town of Victor Supervisor and Chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors; Valerie Knoblauch, President and CEO of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection; John Goodwin, Canandaigua City Manager; Bob Palumbo, Mayor of the City of Canandaigua; Jared Simpson, Canandaigua Town Supervisor; Chris DeBolt, Ontario County Administrator; Steve Griffin, CEO of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center;  Ethan Fogg, President and CEO of the Ontario County Chamber of Commerce; Rob Nye, President of Finger Lakes Community College; Louis Noce, Chief Advancement officer for FLCC; Dan Unrath, Canandaigua City Council Member; Michael Mills, Geneva Business Improvement District; Cindy Kimble and Sue Poelvoorde with the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance; Todd Campbell, Supervisor of the Town of West Bloomfield; Kathy Conradt, Parks and recreation committee member, Town of East Bloomfield; David Hutchings, Executive Director of Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park; Dan Fuller, General Manager of Bristol Mountain; Lisa Fitzgerald, Feathers and Tails Farm; Anita O’Brien, Executive Director of Rochester Accessible Adventures; Alex Walsh, Business Development and Communications Manager with Sessler Companies; Andy Powers, Senior VP with YMCA of Greater Rochester ; and Joe Majewski, Plant Manager of E&J Gallo.