In Whitefish, Montana, outdoor recreation is the most important reason why residents stay and visitors come to the community. On the Whitefish Trail, 22,000 annual uses by visitors (30% of total use) generates $3.6 million in spending and supports 68 jobs.
Trail use estimates
In Helena, Montana, an 80-mile hiking and mountain biking trail system attracts more than 63,000 trail users during the summer. Seven in 10 users are residents, but visitors who use the trail system account for $4 million in spending, support 60 jobs, and generate $185,000 in state and local taxes.
West of Atlanta, Georgia, the Silver Comet Trail plans to double its 61 miles. This is expected to bring more than 500,000 new tourist visits and $30 million in new spending to the area, while also generating substantial new tax revenues for the state through taxes on sales, income, and newly developed residential properties near the trail.
One of the primary concerns about data from GPS tracking apps is that the users tend to be more frequent recreators or commuters and therefore do not accurately represent the actual population. This paper shows that there is a strong correlation between the reported share of people in a neighborhood commuting by active transportation between the American Community Survey (a nationally representative survey) and Strava (a GPS tracking app).
In Burlington, Vermont, a lakefront trail is visited mostly by locals, who use it for both recreation and transportation. Closest to downtown Burlington, non-locals use the trail as much as locals and non-local day trips account for the greatest spending in the community.
In eastern Pennsylvania, the D&L Trail receives approximately 283,000 visits annually, nearly half of whom report using the trail at least once a week. Although the economic impact estimates likely are significantly overstated, the trail’s effect on nearby residents’ health is a substantial, valuable asset.
Across Oregon, snowmobilers account for approximately 353,000 user days per year and $15 million in spending associated with snowmobile trips. Respondents are most concerned about the availability of backcountry, off-trail riding opportunities and sustaining access to existing riding areas.
Across western Oregon, there is substantial variation in how well the supply of hiking, mountain biking, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails meets demand for these trails by local users. Although some communities have many miles of trails, such as the 146 miles of mountain biking trails within 60 minutes of Portland, the supply of trails may be too low to support the number of people using them.
Across Oregon, off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders account for approximately 3.1 million days of riding per year and nearly $100 million in spending. Sixty percent of respondents support increasing the OHV registration fee from $10 to $15, and more than half identify the maintenance of existing trails as the most important funding priority.
Across New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine, the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) draws 90,000 users annually. Although most users visit areas with other attractions and established tourist infrastructure like hotels and restaurants, the smaller number of visitors to remote parts of the trail bring valuable outside spending.
In rural Nova Scotia, a proposed trail is predicted to attract 160,000 users per year. Because motorized vehicle use is expected to diminish the quality of non-motorized users’ experience, allowing all-terrain vehicles on the trail is predicted to cut the number of total visits in half.
Visitors to walking trails in rural Ireland are likely to spend more to visit flat or valley trails, as well as trails that have signage and maps. The authors use the results to evaluate a set of proposed trails to identify those most likely to bring the most visitors and generate the greatest economic impact.
This thorough study of a 111-mile regional trail network around Columbus, Ohio found that trail users travelled roughly 11.9 million miles in 2014, mostly by bicycle. Higher population density, easy access from neighborhoods, connection to other trails, and longer trails are associated with greater use.
Water trails in Pennsylvania are popular with resident anglers and paddlers, as are shoreline activities like picnicking and wildlife viewing. A sample of four of the state’s 21 water trails were associated with 14,000 visitor days over a six-week period in late summer, and $537,000 in spending.
Mountain biking in Oakridge, Oregon contributes substantial economic activity to a small, isolated community deeply affected by the loss of timber jobs. Although the recent rapid growth in the area’s popularity has some residents concerned about cultural change, user conflicts, and environmental concerns, the author is confident these challenges can be overcome.
Non-motorized trail users in Oregon account for 162.3 million user days per year, and the vast majority of these days are spent walking or hiking. While these recreation days are associated with substantial expenditures, the amount spent per person per day and the total economic impact vary greatly within the state.
Although visitor spending per day along the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail in western Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina is relatively low, the large number of visitors generates substantial economic impact. However, much of this spending is likely due to the attraction of specific historic sites and not the trail, because relatively few visitors were aware that the historic sites are connected to a larger regional trail.
In northern Wisconsin, 95 percent of participants in non-motorized events are non-local, and these participants take more than four trips per year to the area on average, generating substantial economic impact. The two most important factors affecting non-residents’ decision to visit were the quality of trails and the quality of trail mapping and signage.
In southwestern Wisconsin, a 47-mile trail is a destination for non-local motorized trail users, who generate over $13 million dollars in spending each year. When the study was conducted, the railroad owner had petitioned to rebuild a portion of the rail line along the trail. This study was used to demonstrate the trail’s benefits to communities near the trail.
A 98-mile rail trail in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota attracts roughly 46,400 visits per year, with trail users spending $118 per trip, on average. Despite high visitation and spending, the trail’s economic impact could be increased with better connections between nearby towns, and through businesses-like bike shops that target trail users.