The economic impacts and uses of long-distance trails

How to cite this study

Moore, R. L., and K. Barthlow. 1998. The economic impacts and uses of long-distance trails. Prepared for U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management.


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.


Findings from this study are relevant for other, similar historic trails that link several historic sites, and not for more traditional, long distance off-road trails. Users of actual off-road trail segments were not sampled due to the difficulty of regularly sampling in more distant, rugged areas.

This study is an ambitious, early example of efforts to measure economic impact through visitor surveys over a large distance and relatively long time period. While findings would differ for long distance, off-road trails, the sampling and stratification approaches are relevant across trail types.


The trail crosses Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Because most of the trail is in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, data were collected in these three states.

Trail Type

This study researches the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. The route is 330 miles long, 87 miles of which are walkable trails (the remainder is a motor touring route). The trail follows the route of frontier militia volunteers during the Revolutionary War.


The purpose of this study is to help the National Park Service, which manages the trail, better understand user preferences and expenditure patterns with the goal of collecting data that could be applied to other long-distance trails. Additionally, this research developed a sampling methodology that could be applied to other long-distance trails along their entire length.

The National Park Service funded this project. The research was conducted as a partnership between the National Park Service and North Carolina State University.


  • In 1995 approximately 1.15 million people visited sites along the trail. Eighty percent of these were from outside the 15-county trail corridor.
  • Thirty-five percent of respondents stated the reason for their trip was to visit the site where they were interviewed. Other responses related to the historic trail include learning more about Revolutionary War history (30%), or traveling part of the Overmountain Victory Trail (12.1%). Half of respondents reported none of these trail-related reasons as the primary purpose of their trip. Only 28 percent of respondents were aware that the historic sites they were visiting were connected to a larger historic trail.
  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents were on an overnight trip. Of those on an overnight trip, respondents spent a median of five nights away from home.
  • Fifty-five percent of visitors stated they were interested in using the off-road segments of the trail. Twenty-nine percent had used the most popular trail section at Kings Mountain National Military Park.
  • Along the 15-county trail corridor, non-resident respondents spent an average of $17 per day. This is surprisingly low, and likely reflects that 41 percent of respondents were on a day trip, and therefore had low lodging expenses.
  • Direct spending by visitors from outside the 15-county trail area totaled approximately $5.3 million in 1995.


The authors made initial contact with users along the trail between July, 1995 and January, 1996. They were intercepted at ten sites along the trail, two off-road segments, and at two trail events.  In-person user interviews were conducted. The 2,185 intercepted users were sent surveys via mail; 63 percent completed the surveys. Sampling was stratified seasonally and by weekend and weekday.

The authors used survey data on trail use and trail-related expenditures as inputs into the IMPLAN regional economic model to estimate total economic impact associated with the trail.

Added to library on December 30, 2015