KINDERHOOK — Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, DN.Y., traveled to Columbia County on Friday to introduce new legislation aimed at boosting the state’s outdoor industry.
Schumer chose a section of the Empire State Trail in Kinderhook as the site to discuss the Rural Outdoor Investment Act at a press conference.
“Outdoor tourism is a booming industry for us,” Schumer said. “And despite this, federal investment has remained low for programs that support outdoor recreation. We have a lot of federal programs to encourage manufacturing, encourage small business, encourage a lot of different things, but we don’t have much to encourage outdoor tourism, and that’s why I’m here today .
The Rural Outdoors Investment Act is designed to get the federal government to improve and invest in rural outdoor areas, Schumer said.
New York’s outdoor recreation industry generates more than $21 billion in additional economic activity and $15.9 billion in wages and salaries, Schumer said. New York’s outdoor recreation industry provides 240,000 jobs.
The bill does three things: invests in outdoor recreation infrastructure, supports communities with money for planning, and provides assistance for businesses.
Outdoor infrastructure has always been underfunded, Schumer said. Columbia County, he said, has great waterfronts in many towns, but access to them is limited due to a lack of boat ramps, boardwalks and other outdoor amenities.
“The bill creates a grant program of $150 million annually for outdoor recreation infrastructure, through the Economic Development Administration (EDA),” Schumer said.
Money for planning will go to smaller towns and villages to help with things like marketing, branding, business development, fundraising and tourism management. Schumer said the legislation would provide $25 million over five years in planning grants to communities to create recreational economy plans, and $12.5 million over five years for university partnerships to promote research, l education and technical assistance to local stakeholders and businesses.
“A lot of our villages have good ideas, but you know you can’t just have a good idea,” Schumer said. “You have to plan it, you have to hire an engineer, an architect, a planner to do it.”
The business assistance will help recreation-related businesses such as outdoor gear and equipment rentals, shuttles, guides and outfitters in addition to hotels, restaurants and retail, Schumer said. The bill would invest $62.5 million in the recreational economies of rural communities.
“This bill is, of course, about the outdoors,” Schumer said. “Connecting with nature, exercising, staying healthy, enjoying the beauty of the globe. But it’s also a four-letter word: JOBS jobs.
This type of activity brings people to cities and towns and helps create jobs, Schumer said.
The positive to come out of the pandemic was that people discovered the beauty of this region, he said. Outdoor Magazine rated the Empire State Trail as America’s Best Rail Trail last month.
“What was number 1? Was it Yellowstone? Was it Moab Canyon? Schumer asked the crowd of about 30 people. “It was right here. Here it is people. The 25 best rail trails in the United States. #1: Empire State Trail.
The trail draws thousands of people to the county and smaller towns such as Kinderhook each year, Schumer said.