Vermont tourism stories sought

MIDDLEBURY — Throughout the year, seasonal tourists flock to Vermont to camp in the Green Mountains, peep at the foliage or hit the slopes. Tourism is a significant industry in the state, with visitors spending $1.7 billion annually and supporting 12 percent of all Vermont jobs, according to the most recent report by the Vermont Tourism Data Center at UVM Extension.

But how does the tourism industry affect Vermonters on a personal level? In the coming months, three Middlebury College students will set out to answer that very question, using individual stories instead of data points.

“Our main goal is to look at how tourism has shaped the experience of living and growing up in Vermont,” said rising junior Scott Gilman, an environmental studies and geography major. He noted in particular that many young Vermonters who would have been agricultural workers may now choose to go into the tourism, hospitality or service industries instead.

Gilman and classmates Catherine Hays and Maggie Morris, both English majors, have been awarded a grant from Middlebury College’s Center for Education in Action to pursue a radio documentary project on the effects of the tourism industry — positive, negative and everything in between — on local Vermonters.

Morris has radio production experience from her college courses, Gilman said, and the students thought that the audio storytelling was a complementary medium for their project goals.

“We’re doing this from a storytelling perspective,” Gilman said. “Having people’s own voices is important. It really adds dimension for the listener.”

The students hope that the format will also lend itself to sharing, both locally and nationwide, given the global popularity of podcasts and local enthusiasm about public radio, Gilman said.

In partnership with the Vermont Historical Society and funded by Middlebury College, Gilman, Hays and Morris will spend July and August collecting individual stories from tourists, tourism industry workers, and residents in areas frequented by tourists. To find their interview subjects, they will hike the Long Trail and go town-to-town in major tourist areas such as Woodstock, Middlebury, Burlington and Montpelier. They will also spend significant time in the Northeast Kingdom.

Gilman said the staff at the historical society had been extremely helpful with their initial research, helping the three students connect to local museums and to narrow the scope of their project. Thanks to staff members’ input, the students decided to devote significant time to studying the $500 million (public and privately funded) Northeast Kingdom Economic Revitalization Initiative at Jay Peak as a specific industry case study, though the students will also get broad perspectives on the tourism industry from each of the towns on their itinerary.

The interviews will be donated to the Vermont Historical Society’s archives. Then, the students will work throughout the fall and winter terms to create a radio documentary, which they hope to pitch to Vermont Public Radio or the website transom.org.

In the meantime, Gilman, Hays and Morris are still soliciting interview subjects. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, they may be reached at sgilman@middlebury.edu or by phone at 585-200-6758.


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Addison County Independent