The Northern Forest Canoe Trail: Economic Impacts and Implications for Sustainable Community Development

Uses studied:
Place: Northern New England and Quebec


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.


This study is relevant for researchers interested in strategies to measure the economic impact of dispersed recreation across a large landscape. The study also provides useful examples of how to use different sampling strategies depending on the type of recreation facilities, and how to combine those different data sources.


The NFCT crosses New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Trail Type

The NFCT is a 740-mile paddling route that includes rivers and lakes, flatwater and whitewater, and runs through remote, forested areas and small towns. Most users paddle segments of the trail, not the entire length.


The purpose of this study is to measure the use and economic impact of the NFCT, and to better understand why some communities are better able to capitalize on the trail’s economic potential. These results may help the NFCT member association obtain greater financial support from communities.

This study was conducted by the Vermont Tourism Data Center at the University of Vermont. No additional funding sources were identified.


  • The trail draws approximately 90,000 paddlers annually, 44 percent of whom are non-local.
  • The average person spends $39 per day in the NFCT region.
  • Average groups spend $215 per trip, with non-locals spending an average of $456 per trip.
  • Total spending, trip length, and relative appeal to non-local users who generate new economic impact vary substantially across the trail’s length. Communities with well-established tourism infrastructure like lodging and restaurants close to the trail receive the largest share of economic impact. However, in small, remote communities the relatively few trail-related visitors bring valuable economic activity.


The authors gathered data using intercept surveys, a challenging prospect for a very long trail with innumerable access points and dispersed users. To tackle these challenges, the authors used several approaches:  convenience sampling via kiosks at boat launches, in-person surveys administered by campground staff and student researchers at boat launches, and mail-in surveys distributed at North Maine Woods checkpoints. The authors also collected visitation data from managers of hotels and campgrounds frequented by paddlers in areas without distinct boat launches.

Respondents were asked about total trip expenses within 25 miles of the trail, the size of their group, travel time to the trail, and whether the NFCT was the primary reason for their trip.

Total visitation was estimated using a systematic weighting of survey data based on the number of people in the group and their trip length.

The authors applied visitation and spending data in the Money Generation Model 2 (MGM2) to estimate economic impacts.


Pollock, N., L. Chase, C. Ginger, and J. Kolodinsky. 2007. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail: Economic Impacts and Implications for Sustainable Community Development. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Tourism Data Center.