Spearhead Trails Implementation Plan, Vol. II Economic Impact Assessment

Place: Buchanan County, Dickenson County, Lee County, Russell County, Scott County, Tazewel County


This study assesses the potential impact of a region-wide trail destination for multiple user groups on private, primarily corporate-owned land in southwest Virginia. It found that developing a destination-quality trail system requires region-wide coordination, both in trail construction and linking, as well as in providing supporting infrastructure for tourists and marketing to potential visitors outside the region.


This study is an example of the type of analyses—including economic impact analysis, potential market assessment, and comparison to existing, comparable trail systems—that are helpful for identifying trail development priorities and economic development potential. Although user days are specific to this region, spending profiles for individual user groups could be used as approximate starting points for other studies.


The Spearhead Trails area includes the seven counties–Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, and Tazewel, and one city—Norton, located in far Southwest Virginia. This region historically has had higher unemployment and poverty rates and lower per capita income than the rest of the state and was targeted as an area with high potential and need for economic development.

Trail Type

The proposed trail system studied currently consists of off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails, and eventually will include hiking, mountain biking, canoe/kayak, equestrian, and rails to trails. The Virginia General Assembly created the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority to create and manage trails on private, largely corporate-owned lands for different user types across a seven-county region. Trail users are required to purchase a permit–$15 per day or $50 for the season.


This study estimated the total potential economic impact that could be generated from the development of new and expanded trail systems in southwest Virginia. This study, together with a Trails Development Plan, was used to develop a business plan to be used by local governments, funding agencies, and user organizations. Findings from this study were to be used to set funding priorities and determine how to generate the greatest economic impact. The study was commissioned by the Southwest Virginia Regional Recreation Authority, the agency charged with developing this trail system.


The authors predict that OHV use will generate the most visitor days and the highest spending per visitor in 2014, followed by equestrian users. In large part the user days reflect the trails and events promoted to the different user groups.


Table 1. Anticipated total users, predicted spending per person per trip, and predicted total direct spending in 2014.

User Yearly Predicted Trail User Days Predicted Total Spending Per Person Per Trip Predicted Direct Spending
OHV 13,643 $274 $3,378,236
Equestrian 1,844 $172 $317,252
Canoe/Kayak 651 $148 $96,376
Hiking 341 $148 $60,145
Mountain Biking 452 $133 $37,866
TOTALS 16,931 $4,262,497


The development and implementation of the Spearhead Trails initiative offers economic opportunities for local and state government, as well as private sector businesses through increased sales, taxes, and job creation. Few other economic opportunities exist in the regions proposed for trail development other than timber or mineral extraction, which, in most cases, has already been done.

The authors estimate the following economic impacts from the planned trail development in 2017, once the trails are well-established: total direct economic impact of $14.1 million, 390 full-time jobs, and $4.9 million in labor earnings. For context, this represents 0.1 percent of the employed residents and 0.2 percent of all labor earnings in the seven counties.


During the 2011 summer season, visitor profile surveys were completed at tourism venues in Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia that may attract visitors similar to those expected at the Spearhead Trails. These sites represented canoeing/kayaking, horseback trail riding, OHV trail riding, and mountain biking. The purpose of the visitor profile questionnaire was to capture data on visitor demographics (including socio-economic factors), spending, and travel habits. They obtained 343 completed surveys, but neither the response rate nor sampling strategy was provided.

This assessment also reviewed a number of case studies for OHV trails, hiking/biking trails, and rails to trails projects in order to determine the potential economic impact of additional trail development in the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority (SRRA) mandate. The economic impact analysis (EIA) used visitor spending surveys, analysis of secondary data from government economic statistics, economic base models, and regional input-output models.


Sustainable Development Consulting International. 2012. Spearhead Trails Implementation Plan, Vol. II: Economic Impact Assessment. Southwest Virginia Regional Recreation Authority.