Vermont to Spend $6 Million on State Park Improvements

Fri June 19, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Lisa Rathke




WATERBURY, Vt. (AP) Vermont plans to spend $6 million on improvements at its state parks this year, bucking a national trend of cutbacks and service closures by cost-conscious states.

The funding is part of $109 million capital construction bill that Gov. Jim Douglas signed into law May 27. It includes $39 million in federal stimulus money and will pay for a variety of projects, including state building improvements and school construction that the governor said will create hundreds of jobs.

The $6 million for park improvements is all state money and far exceeds the average $800,000 Vermont has put into its parks annually over the past 10 years, said Jason Gibbs, Vermont’s commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

Officials decided to pursue 150 park projects — which range from replacing roofs and water lines to renovating cabins and parking lots — after a governor’s commission found that Vermont needs to invest more in park maintenance and infrastructure.

The state also hopes to draw more visitors to its campsites and keep them coming back as travelers look for less expensive vacations during the recession.

Vermont already is seeing a more than 10 percent increase in reservations for the summer. Memorial Day weekend was slightly above past years, Gibbs said.

Around the country, state parks and historic sites have had to cut back because of budgets squeezed by the economic downturn.

Vermont has temporarily reduced services at six of its 52 state parks that were operating far below capacity, Gibbs said. He’s also proposed a $1 fee to bring a pet into state parks and charging out-of-state campers an extra $2.