RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — As he continued his ‘Thank You, Virginia’ tour on Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he is proposing a two-year budget that will include nearly $245 million for outdoor recreation and Virginia’s world-renowned natural lands.

The governor’s office says the new funding will help with a significant expansion of the Commonwealth’s network of regional trails, Virginia State Parks, and the Office of Outdoor Recreation.  

“Virginia is home to a robust outdoor recreation economy, with 41 state parks and more than 450 miles of recreational paths,” Northam said. “Our natural assets draw tens of thousands of visitors each year, opening up countless opportunities for economic development across Virginia. This increased funding will make significant progress towards both preserving the beauty of Virginia’s landscape and ensuring that this critical industry continues to thrive for years to come.” 

According to officials, the funding will go towards supporting existing trails, along with developing new trails like the Eastern Shore, Shenandoah, and Fall Line trails.

In addition, the budget proposal will reportedly ensure that the Office of Outdoor Recreation — which was launched by Northam in 2019 in order to coordinate outdoor recreation efforts across multiple state agencies — will have enough funding to support two full-time employees. 

“Active transportation is a critical component of our multimodal transportation network, providing the final link to schools, workplaces, and transit stops,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Not only do Virginia’s regional trails create safer alternatives for existing pedestrians and cyclists, they also attract thousands of non-local visitors each year, significantly enhancing economic development prospects for the localities they pass through.”

According to the governor’s office, outdoor recreation employs more than 197,000 people, contributes an estimated $22 billion to Virginia’s economy, and generates $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenues.

Officials tell WFXR News that Virginia State Parks reported nearly eight million visits in 2020, an increase of 13 percent. In addition, some of the Commonwealth’s natural area preserves not only doubled the number of visitors compared to pre-pandemic numbers, but these increases have continued in 2021.

A number of trails in Virginia reportedly have a sizable economic impact, including the Capital Trail from Richmond to Williamsburg, the New River Trail from Galax to Pulaski, and the Creeper Trail from White Top and Abingdon.

When looking at the annual economic impact, Northam’s office says the Capital Trail generates $9 million and the New River Trail generates $28 million. Meanwhile, more than half of the visitors to the Creeper Trail are coming from outside the area, boosting the Commonwealth’s tourism revenue. 

“Outdoor recreation provides an important boost to local economies,” said state Sen. Emmett Hanger, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly. “When a community has a multi-use trail, or a state park or forest, it is not only a draw for visitors, it improves the quality of life for those who live there. These investments will ensure more access to Virginia’s beautiful landscape for generations to come.”

“The pandemic has really highlighted how valuable our award-winning state parks and natural areas are,” Del. David Bulova, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly, said. “By supporting staffing and access, we ensure that Virginians and visitors can continue to enjoy all the outdoor beauty the Commonwealth has to offer.”

The governor made this announcement during a stop on Brown’s Island in Richmond on Wednesday, Dec. 8.

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