Evaluating the Economic Benefits and Future Opportunities of the Maine Island Trail Association

Uses studied:
Place: Maritime islands


Along the coast, the Maine Island Trail connects 183 islands along 375 miles of coastline, attracting 11,385 users per year who bring $553,000 in new spending to the area. This is an excellent example of an economic impact study that carefully identifies new spending that would not have occurred without the trail, as opposed to spending that would happen regardless of the trail’s presence.


The careful methods, background research and description of economic concepts, and creative use of multiple datasets make this study a useful reference for any economic impact analysis.

This research is relevant to those interested in the potential economic impacts of water trails, and to our knowledge this is the only study of this type on a marine water trail. It is also relevant to trail organizations that are looking for strategies to measure their contribution to trail users and the communities where they work.

One point to note: the authors may understate the benefits of the trail to island communities because they aggregate data across the 375-mile coastline, and do not include in-state spending in the main results. While this increases the credibility of their analysis, it overlooks potential benefits to small communities.


This study was based off the coast of Maine, along a 375-mile string of islands running from southern Maine to the Canadian Maritimes.

Trail Type

This study focused on a water trail connecting 183 islands, used by campers and boaters, roughly half of whom are kayakers.


The purpose of this study is to measure the impact of the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), a non-profit organization that works with private landowners to maintain the trail. This required measuring the benefits of the trail itself, as well as particular activities MITA does. The research was conducted in anticipation of MITA and Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands developing a new trail management plan.

This research was conducted for the Maine Island Trail Association. It was supported by the following major funders of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program: the Enel Endowment for Environmental Economics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation.


  • Visitors spend $553,000 annually, which otherwise would not have been spent in Maine. The trail generates an additional $1.25 million in spending that may have been spent in Maine if visitors did not use the trail, but may still represent new money in area communities.
  • In-state day users spend an average of $114 per group. In-state multiday groups spent an average of $408 per group. Out-of-state day users spent an average of $684 per group per trip. Out-of-state overnight users spent an average of $1,177 per group per trip.
  • Twenty-three percent of respondents would not have spent this money in the state if the Maine Island Trail did not exist. The authors only include this “baseline spending” in their economic impact analysis.
  • The proportion of visitors falling under the baseline spending category differed substantially depending on origin and day versus overnight trips. Baseline spending accounts for two percent of in-state day trip users, four percent of in-state overnight users, 21 percent of out-of-state daytrip users, and 52 percent of out-of-state overnight users.
  • The average trail user receives $91 in benefit per day. This is a measure of the value to users beyond what they had to spend to use the trail, known as “consumer surplus.”
  • The greatest value MITA offers comes from providing access to 112 otherwise private islands. The organization also produces a guidebook for the trail and organizes education and volunteer efforts to encourage low impact camping.
  • The trail is associated with at least $54,000 in state and local tax revenue, compared to the $50,000 annual contribution the state makes to MITA.


The authors estimate the benefit of the trail for trail users using a “travel cost” model, which estimates the value of the trip to users beyond the money they spent. They measure the economic impact to local communities using estimates of visitation and spending, using the IMPLAN regional economic model.

The authors use three data sources: island log book entries from 2002-2010 to determine average number of group trips and group size; a 2006 survey of user characteristics and attitudes relating to the trail for average visitation to the trail; and a survey the authors conducted on trail use and spending patterns and travel distance to the trail. The spending pattern survey was distributed via email to the MITA’s mailing list.

The authors were careful to include only spending that would not have occurred in Maine if the trail did not exist. Thus they included only 1) out-of-state visitors who came to Maine primarily to use the trail and 2) in-state users who visited the coast to use the trail, but who strongly considered a different location outside of Maine for vacation.


Glassman, J. and V. Rao. 2011. “Evaluating the Economic Benefits and Future Opportunities of the Maine Island Trail Association.” Discussion Paper 2011-28. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program.