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Tourism and Vermont heritage

05/08/03 12:00AM By Tom Slayton
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(Host) Next week is National Tourism week, and Tom Slayton has some thoughts on how tourism can actually help preserve Vermont's natural beauty and integrity.

(Slayton) In the 1890s and early 1900s, the Vermont Agriculture Board and later the Vermont Development Commission produced hundreds of pamphlets, touting the virtues of Vermont to outsiders. And how did those early promoters entice visitors to come here? They described Vermont as a place of rural beauty, a place where farms produced wholesome food, and mountains, lakes and trails offered vigorous, refreshing outdoor recreation, a place where history was important and a relationship to the land still meant something. In other words, those first promoters of Vermont put forward very much the same qualities that 100 years later we are still promoting.

As early as the 1920s, Vermont was promoted as an unspoiled place apart from the unpleasantness of urban life. One pamphlet of that era described the state simply as "Vermont--A sanctuary in the hills." Now, roughly a century later, that vision has succeeded. The economic prosperity of Vermont is now very closely tied to tourism. It has become the second largest economic activity in the state, and will likely be its largest soon. That's a success story that Vermont desperately hoped for a century ago. But there is a cautionary element there as well.

Because what Vermont has to offer -- its natural beauty; its attractive small villages and downtowns, its farms, lakes, and lovely mountains-- all that is vulnerable. It can be damaged, or lost. It is possible, in fact, for tourism --the very activity that promotes that beautiful fabric --to damage it.

Fortunately for Vermont, state leaders have long favored the kind of tourism that strengthens the state by promoting the indigenous attractions that are already here, rather than creating new artificial ones. The vision of Vermont as beautiful, natural, and somehow good is still accepted, and Vermont's leaders know that the vision means nothing if t isn't true. In fact, the state's efforts at promoting cultural heritage tourism -- which focuses on Vermont's historic sites, arts, crafts, and cultural offerings --have won national recognition. And Vermont's agritourism programs -- which introduce tourists to real working farms and give farmers a much -needed source of outside income -- are seen as a national model.

The extra-added value of cultural heritage and agritourism is that they celebrate -- and therefore help preserve -- the best of our state: the things that really are Vermont. If Vermont can retain its natural beauty, its farms, its wild mountains and serene lakes , everyone will benefit, for it will assure that Vermont remains not only a nice place to visit, but a great place to live, as well.

Tom Slayton is editor of Vermont Life magazine.
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