The Economic Impacts of Active Silent Sports Enthusiasts

Place: Ashland, Bayfield, and Sawyer Counties


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.


This study is relevant for communities that are interested in organizing non-motorized events as an economic development strategy. By drawing their sample from existing event participants, the researchers target more avid users who likely will have particularly high visitation, spending, and economic impact. While these people are helpful targets from an economic development perspective, readers should keep in mind that they do not represent the average user.


This study is based in rural Ashland (population 16,103 in 2014), Bayfield (population 15,014 in 2014), and Sawyer (population 16,437) Counties of northern Wisconsin.

Trail Type

The researchers recruited participants in twelve non-motorized events in the three counties. They included Nordic skiing, mountain biking, and running races and events. Over half of respondents had participated in the Birkiebeiner Nordic ski race.


The purpose of this study is to document the demographics, preferences, and spending patterns of non-motorized sports enthusiasts. Given the popularity of snowmobile and ATV use, this information may be helpful for those looking to manage potentially competing trail uses and benefits. Additionally, the economies of the study areas have traditionally been dependent on resource extraction like forestry, agriculture, and mining, but as these sectors shrink the communities are seeking alternative economic opportunities.

This study was supported by the UW-Extension Community, Natural Resources, and Economic Development Program, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, Hayward Lakes Visitor and Convention Bureau, Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association, and Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival.


  • Nearly half of respondents were age 46-60, with a somewhat older median age for non-residents.
  • Eighty-seven percent of non-resident respondents’ primary reason for visiting the area was participating in a non-motorized activity. The remaining 13 percent were event spectators, second homeowners, or leisure travelers.
  • Over 70 percent of respondents participated in cross-country skiing. This high proportion is due in large part because the sample included respondents from the Birkebeiner ski race, which has roughly 10,000 participants. Those who cross-country ski do so on average 60 days per year.
  • Although a relatively low proportion of respondents reported running during the year (roughly 13 percent), they report running nearly 120 days per year, the highest frequency of all use types.
  • Average party size was 3.5 for non-residents, larger than other economic impact studies which often have party sizes closer to 2 people.
  • The average non-resident spent 2.36 nights in the area, although 84 percent were single day visitors.
  • Non-residents took an average of 4.15 trips to the area within the previous 12 months and participated in 1.83 events on average.
  • The most important factor in deciding where to recreate was the quality of trails (average score of 2.9 on a scale of 1 to 3), followed by how well mapped and marked the trails are (average score 2.5). The quiet, rural atmosphere, weather, and organized events also rated highly (average score 2.3)
  • The factors that had the highest importance ratings but lowest user satisfaction ratings were cell service and Wi-Fi availability.
  • Participants spent an average of $260 each within the three counties.
  • The twelve events studied, plus non-event visits, were associated with $14.7 million in annual spending.
  • The authors estimated a multiplier effect of 1.41. In other words, every dollar spent by non-local, non-motorized recreationists was associated with $1.41 in economic activity across the three counties.


The researchers used a web-based survey to collect data on visitor spending, trail use, and preferences for residents and non-residents. They sent the survey to 12,700 participants in 12 non-motorized events that took place over a 12-month period. The final analysis sample included responses from roughly 4,000 non-residents and 200 residents, reflecting the much higher event participation by non-locals.

The authors used visitation and expenditure data as inputs into a regional economic model, IMPLAN, to estimate economic impact.


Berard, D., S. Chapin, A. Hoogasian, T. Kane, D. Marcouiller, and T. Wojciechowski. 2014. The Economic Impacts of Active Silent Sports Enthusiasts. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Extension Report 14.1.