CANANDAIGUA, NY — The way US Sen. Charles E. Schumer sees it, providing a boost to outdoor recreation in the Finger Lakes is also a way of supporting Main Street businesses – particularly those in rural downtowns – and accelerating the region’s economic recovery.
Schumer on Thursday visited Canandaigua and revealed his new Rural Outdoor Investment Act, which capitalizes on the newfound demand for outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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, Schumer said in a statement.
This is why Schumer said it’s worth the investment. In the Finger Lakes, visitors spent over $152 million on pre-pandemic recreation, contributing to the region’s $3.3 billion tourism industry, which generates over $990 million in direct labor income for over 41,000 jobs.
“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,” Schumer stated.
How it works
The legislation focuses on three core areas to promote growth in the outdoor recreation economy in places like the Finger Lakes.
Outdoor recreation infrastructure could see $150 million over five years for public works, through the Economic Development Administration, for assets like boat ramps, trails, campgrounds and other outdoor facilities.
Schumer also highlighted the US 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. This could help fund trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, and greenways, strengthening downtowns by allowing for tourists and residents to more easily flow between areas and enjoy outdoor recreation.
Also, the act would provide planning support to communities that want to grow outdoor recreation opportunities. To this end, the ROI Act provides $25 million over five years for planning grants for communities to create recreation economy plans that optimize their natural opportunities, including marketing, branding, business development, fundraising, and tourism management. 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.
Finally, the act would provide 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 US 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.
During his visit, 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.
— 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 use. Also, Tree Mills Park in Phelps could see 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’ rail-to-trails by extending and constructing a trail in the former Peanut Line rail corridor from Canandaigua west through East Bloomfield 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 use, including for snowmobiling. The towns and 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’s multi-year lakefront improvement plan. In addition to the beach, projects would include a new boardwalk and 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 its 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 its five-year strategic plan 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.
Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Marren said in Victor and Ontario County, an increase was seen in the use of parks, trail system and area golf courses and he is encouraged by Schumer’s goal to 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,” stated Marren, who also is Victor Town supervisor.
Valerie Knoblauch, President and CEO of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, stated this is a welcomed stimulus opportunity for economic development, sustainable growth, and lifestyle benefits for visitors and residents.
“We call our Finger Lakes, ‘Nature’s Health Club,'” Knoblauch said. “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.”