RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that nearly $245 million for outdoor recreation would be included in his proposed two-year budget.
The governor said this money would help expand the state’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 in a statement. “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.”
Northam made the announcement on Brown’s Island in Richmond as part of his “Thank You Virginia” tour. Earlier this week, the governor proposed raises for law enforcement and educators, as well as funding to address sea level rise.
Some of the governor’s proposed funding will go towards completing the Fall Line trail, which will ultimately connect seven Central Virginia localities. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney applauded Northam’s commitment.
“As Chair of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority’s Finance Committee, I am particularly grateful for the Governor’s proposal to effectively bridge the funding gap between CVTA investment in the Fall Line Trail and the funding needed to complete the 43-mile Ashland-to-Petersburg nature route, which runs right through the City of Richmond,” Stoney said in a statement.
This budget plan would also include funding for two full-time employees in the Office of Outdoor Recreation, which was started by Northam in 2019. This office was founded with the goal of managing outdoor recreation efforts across multiple state agencies.
Northam said outdoor recreation contributes an estimated $22 billion to the state’s economy and employs more than 197,000 people. For example, the Capital Trail, which runs from Richmond to Williamsburg, generates $9 million in economic impact, according to Northam.
Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly, considers this a bipartisan proposal. He expects Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin to support it.
“This has gone on for at least the last 20 years that we’ve been really skimpy with funding our state parks,” Hanger said.
However, Hanger admitted there may be some difficult decisions ahead, with big new investments and Youngkin’s tax cuts on the table.
“It’s just like a family budget. You want a lot of things but sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want for Christmas,” Hanger said.
Northam will present his full budget plan to lawmakers next week. The General Assembly and Youngkin will have an opportunity to make adjustments during the 2022 legislative session.