NORTH ADAMS — Looking to leverage its natural assets for community and economic development, the Northern Berkshires turned to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom for guidance. At its monthly forum on Friday, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition looked at the economic impact of outdoor recreation in a presentation from the Kingdom Trails Association based in East Burke, Vt. More than 50 people — ranging from city residents to representatives from organizations such as the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Hoosic River Revival — attended the meeting at 85 Main St.
Kingdom Trails, a nonprofit founded in 1994, manages a network of more than 100 miles of multi-use trails in the northeast corner of Vermont. In recent years, Kingdom Trails has seen the number of visitors to its trail system skyrocket, which created a corresponding economic impact.
Lilias Ide, the events and marketing manager for Kingdom Trails, told Friday's Coalition gathering: "You guys are already so close to actually being there with outdoor recreation. It seems like everyone is on board."
The nonprofit built a network of all-season trails on land controlled by a variety of owners. People buy day passes or annual memberships to use the trails for a variety of non-motorized uses only, from mountain biking to hiking.
Kingdom Trails continues to grow. For the first time, an estimated all-time high of 100,000 people used the trail system last year.
Based on survey data, Kingdom Trails knows the typical visitor is coming from 250 miles away, an indication he or she is likely staying the night.
"It becomes a destination, which is good news," Ide said.
In 2016, the typical visitor was estimated to spend $115 per day. The adding up to about $8 million spent by people coming from out of state.
"This creates a pretty huge economic impact," Ide said.
But the trails are also regularly used by locals and the organization has an impact on nearby residents, including in working with local schools.
In the Northern Berkshires, the recreational asset most primed for development is the Greylock Glen in Adams, argued state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams.
Barrett drew parallels between the Greylock Glen, a 1,000-acre parcel of recreational land at the base of Mount Greylock, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which was a focus of the area's revitalization as industry vanished.
"A lot of you people are here today because of Mass MoCA and because of what it generated from that point on," Barrett said. "Now we're talking about another component, which I think is needed badly."
Barrett said he hoped to bring new forward about developments at the Greylock in coming weeks.
Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, echoed that passion for outdoor recreation and said it was an important piece of getting 20- and 30-year-olds back to the area.
"For me, it was that quality of that life that got me back here," said Hinds, who was raised in the Shelburne Falls area.
Hinds said he's been exploring how to develop the region's environmental assets. The senator is working on an environmental bond bill through which he hopes to fund a trail assessment in Western Massachusetts.
"There's just this infrastructure for outdoor [recreation] that's there, but it could be improved upon," Hinds said.
The presentation was followed by a networking session and breakout groups that worked on how to improve local access to natural assets and use those assets as levers of economic development.
Adam Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.