Outdoor Recreation Scarcity and Abundance in Western Oregon: A Spatial Analysis

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Place: Portland, Tillamook, Sandy, Newburg, McMinnville, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, Coos Bay, Roseburg, Grants Pass, Medford

Overview

Across western Oregon, there is substantial variation in how well the supply of hiking, mountain biking, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails meets demand for these trails by local users. Although some communities have many miles of trails, such as the 146 miles of mountain biking trails within 60 minutes of Portland, the supply of trails may be too low to support the number of people using them.

Relevance

This research demonstrates an approach to assessing how well trails meet a community’s needs, which is relevant to land managers and transportation planners interested in how well a regional trail system meets current and projected demand from residents.

The authors note the limitations of their methods, which do not account for the varying quality of experiences on different trails, the availability of natural features that may be more attractive to users, or the number of users different sites can accommodate. Nonetheless, this approach is useful for larger scale needs assessments.

The authors also discuss a potential feedback loop wherein residents who favor a particular activity develop trails that suit that use, which then makes the area more attractive to new residents who enjoy that use. This can lead to a large number of trails supporting one type of use, potentially at the exclusion of others.

Location

This study focuses on recreation opportunities around 12 cities in western Oregon: Portland, Tillamook, Sandy, Newburg, McMinnville, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, Coos Bay, Roseburg, Grants Pass, and Medford. The populations of these communities range from 24,321 in Tillamook to 1.4 million in Portland.

Trail Type

This study evaluates hiking, mountain biking, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails on public land within 30- and 60-minute drives of the cities.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to compare the supply of recreation trails in western Oregon communities, for several types of uses, to determine whether the supply meets current demand. The study also evaluates whether trail use would likely be higher if more trails were available for different user types.

This study was conducted by ECONorthwest and funded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Findings

  • Across the three types of trail uses, hiking trails are relatively abundant and in most communities appear to meet demand.
  • Relative to nearby population size, all types of trails are scarcest in the Willamette Valley near the large cities of Portland, Salem, Corvallis, and Eugene.
  • Mountain biking opportunities are scarcest within 30 minutes of the communities in this study, particularly in the northern Willamette Valley.
  • OHV trails are relatively scarce near Eugene, Corvallis, and Salem, but they are very abundant relative to nearby population near Grants Pass, Medford, and Roseburg.
  • Relative to nearby population size, the Klamath Falls, Butte Falls (near Medford), and Cascades (near Salem) BLM regions have lower than expected visitation. This may reflect potential demand for recreational opportunities that currently is not being met.

Methods

The authors used data from several sources to estimate supply and demand for trails.

The supply of trails was gathered from online databases AllTrails (for hiking and OHV trails), RiderPlanet USA (OHV trails), Singletracks (mountain bike trails), and the MTB Project (mountain bike trails). The authors also include total public land around the studied cities as a proxy for potential recreation opportunity.

The authors estimated demand for trails using the size of the population living within a 30- and 60-minute drive of each city, derived from Census population estimates at the Census tract level. They used county participation rates for each activity from the 2012-2018 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) to estimate the share of the local population that participates in each activity. They used data from the BLM’s Recreation Management Information System (RMIS) to determine total visitor days on BLM land.

Citation

ECONorthwest. 2015. Outdoor recreation scarcity and abundance in Western Oregon: A Spatial Analysis. Portland, OR: Bureau of Land Management.