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Schumer introduces bill to boost federal funding for outdoor recreation

New York Senator Chuck Schumer in Kinderhook
Ashley Hupfl
New York Senator Chuck Schumer in Kinderhook

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is promoting a new bill that would boost funding for outdoor recreation.

The New York Democratic Majority Leader says the proposal would create a $150 million annual grant program to invest in outdoor infrastructure after outdoor activities boomed in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking in Kinderhook Friday, Schumer touted a recent issue of Outside Magazine that listed the 750-mile Empire State Trail as the top rail trail in the country.

“What was number one? Was it Yellowstone? No. Was it Moab Canyon? It was … right here," the Democrat said. "Here it is, folks. The 25 Best rail trails in the U.S. Number one: Empire State Trail. Is that amazing?"

The project to connect New York’s trails into one uninterrupted pathway began in 2017 with the state providing $200 million in funding. The multi-use path marries existing trail networks with new connector trails that can take you across New York. In all, the Empire State Trail effort involved 58 projects. It was completed in December 2020.

Promoting an extension to Long Island in March 2019, Capital Region Democratic state Assemblywoman Pat Fahy said outdoor activities promote better physical and mental health.

“There is a wonderful multiplier effect," says Fahy. "When we get people outside, and enjoying [this] outdoor recreation, not only is it good for the environment, good for the health and mental health — this is absolutely good for the bottom line and the statistics are rather extraordinary.”

Schumer says the trail has been a boon for New York tourism.

“We have some of the most beautiful trails and we have a lot of people in the Northeast who want to use these trails, so it's a great combination," he said. "This is a gem, runs right through the heart of this great county and brings thousands through our small towns like Kinderhook every year.”

With the pandemic limiting indoor activities, Schumer says New York State parks had record attendance last year, with more than 78 million visitors. A new record is expected this year.

“Now that they’ve found the beauty of the Hudson Valley, of Columbia County and of our rail trails, they're coming back. So, it was something of a good thing - a lot of bad things came out of COVID – but a good thing came out (of the pandemic) that people discovered the beauty of this area," Schumer said. "Outside tourism is a booming industry for us, and despite this, federal investment has remained low for programs that support outdoor recreation.”

New York State saw a boost in one-time federal funding for outdoor recreation infrastructure from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Schumer says New York received $45 million in ARPA funding for outdoor recreation and the infrastructure bill included nearly $300 million for the state’s trails, sidewalks, bike lanes and greenways.

But the Democrat says permanent funding is needed to boost the industry. His Rural Outdoor Investment Act would create the grant program for outdoor recreation infrastructure and allocates $25 million annually to the state’s Economic Development Corporation to fund research for projects in the planning stage.

It also provides funding to businesses that support recreation-related businesses, such as stores that sell outdoor gear, equipment rentals and hotels.

“This bill is, of course, about the outdoors. Connecting with nature, getting exercise, staying healthy, enjoying the beauty of the globe. But, it's also about a four-letter word: J-O-B-S. Jobs. And this kind of activity creates jobs, because it brings people here who stay in the motels and hotels and the bed and breakfasts. Who eat in the restaurants. Who shop in the stores. It works.”