Deflating the Dollar


$.02 with Dave Packie


Dave is a straight shooter. He tells it like it is. He’s not afraid to call people out and give them a good ‘ol verbal beat down. Recently Dave called us out on our shit.  We at MTBVT have been promoting riding in our state for a couple years now. But have we weighed the ramifications of our actions? Dave? 



20 years ago I left Jersey looking for a more relaxed and rural place to live. I ended up in VT. People make fun of you for being from the “flatland” when they come from “cooler” places.  None of them, from what I could tell were Abenaki.

Now I see this cool place bending over backwards to market its goods and cater to the Urbanites. Every cultural and physical nuance that makes this place enjoyable is being marketed as “The Vermont Experience”, and people who are up here spending their precious dollars feel entitled to these resources as part of their holiday. And it’s the natives that are driving the ever-accelerating mechanism.  The Marketing Machine is transforming favorite swimming holes, bike trails, BC ski lines, local beers, trout streams, and other gems that used to have special meaning into part of the tourist experience.

The point that is overlooked is that the fact that the reason these things are special to Vermonters, native or migrated, is that they required effort to find, are limited in their availability, and are not roadside attractions that you can photograph from the window of your Suburban. They are places, goods, and experiences that require effort, development of skill and fitness, and intuition in order to glean them from the rolling hills and hamlets of Vermont.

These things should not be solely considered for their potential financial gain. This paradigm leads to development, which leads to exploitation, which leads the masses, who seldom make the choice to head off the beaten path, into places that we used to go to escape them. With them, they bring their entitlement, their road rage, their litter, and yea, their dollars. More and more I am realizing that, at an ever increasing rate, the dollar isn’t worth it.

This is not an exclusionist rant.  Maybe it’s a preservationist rant.  Coming from the “Dirty Jerz”, I have a perspective that most natives, particularly those not from the Champlain Valley, don’t have and can’t understand.  Vermont’s natural beauty may seem endless when viewed from within.  But from my perspective, there are precious few places left to truly escape to. Most of our highest peaks are centers for land development, and most of our rivers have been heavily industrialized.

In the age of instant information, we are empowered.  Small groups of people can positively affect our culture in ways so profound, and so immediate, it would have seemed impossible just a handful of years ago.  Enter the universal truth that every force has a counterforce.  As undeniable as this truth is, so is it true that a small group with a financial agenda can have an equally profound negative effect which can permanently change our culture.

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone proclaim, “If I weren’t up here spending my dollars, you wouldn’t have a job.”  I’d have a lot of dimes.  The awesome jobs that tourism creates are seasonal, low paying, lack benefits, and ensure that we will remain working, and poor.  The tourism based economic model devastates our landscapes with land development schemes in our most sacred places.  For example, golf courses being built where there are clear signs of bear habitat are polluting the headwaters of trout streams where we watch, in noticeable, real time, the silt fill in the pebble beds, and ski center models ever expanding their physical and carbon footprint. We need to deflate the perceived value of the tourist dollar because it excludes the impact tourism has on our experiences in our daily lives, and on our environment.  When you add in these costs, the tourist dollar is worth much less then we might think.





  • Thibault says:

    Fixed it Mat.

  • I sit in front of a computer all day.

  • Owen Packard says:

    That was worth far more than two cents

  • Dwight Gies says:

    I build mountain bike trails, and I agree with Dave. Too much effort is being placed on marketing and promotion. Everything seems to be about getting more people here to ride our trails. And even though some sweet trails are being developed, that’s not being done by consulting the local mountain bike community. Even with my connections in the business I have no idea what the plan might be, or even if there is a plan. We can do better than that.

    • Sarah G says:

      Hey Dwight, What do you mean about trails being developed without the local mtb community? I thought building happened at the chapter level? Are you talking about private developments coming down the pike?

  • Mark says:

    Having grown up in a ski resort town, I’ve seen more than my fair share of those impacts (and I’m not from the Champlain Valley). Many of the natural spaces I played as kid, and hunted or biked as a young adult are now gone. Very good points that are often forgotten or ignored.

  • Thibault says:

    What is our alternative? Vermont is in flux, shifting from an agrarian economy to a largely tourism based one. Decades ago our landscape was decimated by the timber industry, then further corrupted by farming. The impact of a few more kooks in the woods pales in comparison to clear cutting the state. Does the impact of tourism really weigh heavily on us as a community? It certainly beats fracking, or mountain top removal or a large variety of other economic drivers.

    • Mark says:

      It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. I think the issues he points out need to be considered in the mix of factors when looking at our state’s economy. I have no problem sharing what we have with Canadians or the folks down south. Mountain biking is an incredibly low impact activity and it takes quite a stretch to imagine a scenario where it could become a significant threat to Vermont’s character or environment.

  • Danielle O says:

    I can’t help but feel overwhelmed when I consider some of the points Dave makes in this article. At the same time I recognize my own feelings of entitlement to the forests, swimming holes, and powder stashes of Vermont. I continually remind myself that I have no more right to the “wild” places here than anyone else.

    In general, as humans we feel entitled. I work in a field where I am constantly bombarded with the reality of population growth – cell tower construction, electric and gas line extensions, subdivisions, and commercial development – relying on regulation to encourage “responsible” growth. Most people support protections when they don’t affect their personal vision. The rules are good for their neighbors, but not for them. What I read here is, as long as I can access all the places I love, I’m okay with shutting everyone else out. So the article does seem to hint at exclusion

    It’s one thing to have these feelings, but it’s another to act on them. I don’t think rejecting tourism is an answer to our woes. The answer is for people to become involved in their local planning and conservation commissions to develop visions of how they want their communities to grow. So many Vermonters are afraid of having their property rights impinged upon. But without working proactively to prevent growth that fragments habitat and degrades water quality, what will be left of our beautiful places? We can put our heads in the sand all we want, but growth is going to happen either way, unless people decide to stop reproducing.

    The majority of people I encounter on the trails are locals and I do not feeling overrun by tourists. But there is more interest in getting out there and working for your fun. I think MTBVT has done a great job encouraging people to get out, make connections and be active. That type of tourism is far more desirable than strip malls and gated communities. And I’m not entirely convinced that supporting outdoor tourism will result in the latter.

    We can affect people’s perception of living in Vermont by spreading awareness and taking an active role in our community. When we meet people mountain biking on “holiday”, we should say hello and talk to them about the place we love and our concerns. Encourage conversation among our peers. Start a group promoting “responsible” tourism. We have two options: give up and let the growth happen or do something to protect the places we cherish.

  • Sarah G says:

    That’s it. I’m going to live under a rock somewhere. We’re going to argue over something as wonderful as mountain biking? And skiing and beer? I get the need for a good conversation (in person maybe would be better?). But I’m so sick of people just poking. Have a solution? Share it, please. Let’s stay positive – we’re all in this together, because we all love this beautiful place. Have you seen the whackos over on vtdigger posting on the VMBA membership article? There’s a cause we can unite under – let’s start there.

    • LP says:

      I’m a big fan of Sarah’s attitude, being from the west coast originally I can tell you what a sellout state looks (ahem Colorado) and VT is not even close to that. There is so much more positives than negatives to bringing others into the beauty that is Vermont. Yeah, a few jack holes will tout the holier than thou attitudes, but many more of us will financially support the local trail building orgs, volunteer to help maker more ST possible and help make the state that much more epic. Just my 2 cents…

    • Mark says:

      That comment on the VT Digger article is from a long established internet troll who is on a personal crusade against mountain biking for many, many years now. He’s bad enough that there are several FAQs out there dealing with him. I’m surprised he even noticed Vermont.

      Try not to let it get to you. Sometimes the best thing is to get on the bike and forget about the rest of reality for a while. It always puts a smile on my face.

      • Sarah G says:

        I know he’s a known phenomenon, and I know we won’t ever change his mind, but I wish we could organize responses to help educate the Vt-ers reading and being influenced by his comments, because they have no other viewpoints to listen to or facts to check out that support mtb trail development. In a community where I”m trying to get trails for the first time, I don’t want my neighbors deciding against mtbers because of this guy. It’s an opportunity to educate and inform our neighbors that we’re collectively missing, and hopefully we’re not losing would-be supporters to his cause because they have no other info to go with.

  • Sarah G says:

    p.s. in the renewable energy world, we call this kind of in-fighting the circular firing squad. Let’s not all go down together – let’s build from what we have in common.

  • Ben H says:

    I couldn’t have said it better my self. As a native, the direction Vermont is headed has me seriously considering leaving for good. Exclusivity is a big part of what made much of the state special for me as a kid. Now most of my favorite spots are overrun, or destroyed by development. The tourist dollar is not worth it. I’d rather no economy than a tourism based economy. Vermont needs to get it’s head out of it’s ass about a lot of things, but prostituting the finite natural resources we have to yuppie slobs should be a front burner issue. Unfortunately, most of the people who control this state are the same people who I’ve watch migrate here and ruin it, so I don’t have any hope…

    Grumpy native rant over. Dave, that was a fine piece, you’re proof that every now and then NJ spits out a good person, I’m glad you’re up here with us.

  • Dave Packie says:

    Danielle’s comments are wonderful. Involvement is the key. The motivation for this short blurb, which does not do this subject real justice, is an approach that has been taken in the last several years by special interests to gain access to public lands for recreational development. They approach land managers with a promise of revenue as an angle. And marketing these developments has worked. Use has far outpaced sustainability. While my eye may be more keen to the degredation of some new trails and other resources in the more heavily traveled areas, objectively we should all recognize that too few of us build and volunteer, while many ride and use. We should be more up front with land managers in terms of our motivations. We want land conservation and recreational development or our own quality of life. Vermont should persue opportunities to create a better enviornment for real meaningful job creators to move in, and maybe not so ready to pimp our public open spaces out to out-of-state ching. Tourism, like Reganomics, has proven itself to serve the monied on the backs of the working poor.

  • Dwight Gies says:

    As a trail builder I’ve had the good fortune to work on a couple of mountain bike trail projects in the Carrabassett Valley. They have a team up there, with great support from the town and the community, who are working to build a network of epic mountain bike trails. It’s happening, and the engine of all the stoke and productivity is the dedicated group of passionate mountain bikers who are selfishly building trails they want to ride. And as it goes, the trails they love to ride are addictive. It’s getting that good, and a lot more is coming. They have a plan and they are moving on it, and with everyone on board. The additional benefit is what it does for the region. Last year a bike shop opened and is operated by a local rider, Bob, .A new Hostel has opened up in the area. The Rack is doing great business. I think it’s good to open up the forest for recreation, Let’s just remember where our roots are.

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  • Adam St. Germain says:

    I think Dave raises some great talking points, offers no real solutions, and presents all of it in a very exclusionist light.
    I travel New England regularly for business and I encounter this same mentality of “locals only” in a lot of different pockets of New England.
    That attitude isn’t unique to VT, or New England by any stretch, but the fact is that it’s not a healthy attitude for the continued success and growth (responsible or otherwise) or our sport and our communities.

    I think 2014 is going to be a year of tectonic shifts (hopefully not literally) throughout the state with regard to access, trails, partnerships, etc.
    It is critical that we’re all speaking to each other, and understanding each other’s needs.
    I think that we need the out-of-state riders and visitors. I think there is a myriad of opportunity for locals to benefit and prosper from our friendly visitors.
    I disagree with Dave in how he lumps all tourists into the same group of being irresponsible and disrespectful. Are some? Sure. Are some locals like that? Sure.
    I think we need to find a way to develop and build better and larger trail networks and outdoor recreation centers (whatever they might be). And let the local communities build, or repurpose the existing infrastructure. I don’t think that means building gated communities, or larger condo complexes.
    So yes, there needs to be preservation, but we need to welcome outsiders with open arms and be proud and excited to share the beauty and resources that we call home.

    Disclaimer: I am not a Vermont native, I’m originally from Rhode Island, but wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

  • RFD says:

    I am native but I ain’t naive. I see the value in both but let us apreciate the true value of mystery which is unlocked by exploration. That is the value of enrichment of any outdoor enthusiast. Everything else just seems to become bragging rights. What kind of spoon fed outdoorsy types are we creating? Build trail, do it cuz you love it, Build like you like it. That the character that makes legends. People will find it, but you need to let them. I have to say that millstone is a good model of this grand tour is the candy shell with truffle cream on the inside. Find your way to ride it, pick your favorites and ride it! I think that selling a lifestyle is a slippery slope and selling a resource that has been bestowed to you by choice is even more so. Vermont has changed much in my 39 plus years here. There are some real true people here, who came here to find their way and sacrificed much to live this lifestyle. Myself I grew up with the inspirations of Craftsbury, that defined me to ski and bike and appreciate the subtleties of of beauty which we live in every day. I say if people want to unlock those mysteries with their own grit and determination, let them. Those are the kind of people we want here. The reason the community is what it has been is because of this.

  • Matthew Greco says:

    This is exactly what I was afraid of: Localisim infiltrating mountain biking. Dont end up like surfing (we dont own waves or trails).

    As for concerns for the future: trail building and use starts with Conservation (which takes money) Practicing sustainable techniques (which takes less money), and Preservation (which takes education).

    It is the last hurdle that can be the hardest to get over. You cant fix stupid, but you can educate ignorance.

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