Estimating Tourism Expenditures for the Burlington Waterfront Path and the Island Line Trail

Uses studied: ,
Place: Burlington


In Burlington, Vermont, a lakefront trail is visited mostly by locals, who use it for both recreation and transportation. Closest to downtown Burlington, non-locals use the trail as much as locals and non-local day trips account for the greatest spending in the community.


This study is relevant to those interested in an approach to measuring the economic impact of a trail that attracts tourists but is also a frequently used resource for local recreation and transportation. This study highlights the variation in trail use and spending associated with different segments of a single trail.

This study made creative use of different data sources for counts and trail user interviews. However, because their spending estimates come from a statewide estimate of tourist spending they must be interpreted cautiously. Additionally, because visitors were not asked if the trail was the primary reason to the trip, one cannot infer that visitor spending is attributable solely to the trail.


This study is based in Burlington, Vermont, population 39,000 when the study was published. It is part of a larger metropolitan area with 153,000 residents.

Trail Type

This study evaluated the 12.5-mile Island Line Trail, which is also known as the Waterfront Trail and Burlington Bikeway. It runs along the shore of Lake Champlain, connecting smaller communities, downtown Burlington, and commercial and retail centers.


The purpose of this study is to estimate the value of non-local spending associated with two trails in the Burlington area. Tourism is a valuable component of Vermont’s economy, but the contribution of multi-use paths is not well understood.

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and conducted by the University Transportation Center program at the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center.


  • Over a five month period, total trail users range from 26,490-35,591 on weekends and 39,848-67,669 on weekdays, depending on the location. The highest use on both weekdays and weekends is at the Waterfront Park, closest to downtown Burlington.
  • Visitors’ origins range from mostly local (82%) at the southern end of the trail to half local and half visitors along the Burlington waterfront.
  • Although the trail is mostly used for recreation, during the weekday 19-21 percent of traffic, depending on the trail segment, is used for commuting to work, school, or for shopping.
  • Total visitor spending per day ranges from $10,000 on weekdays at the southern end of the trail, to $45,000 on weekends along the lakefront. Across all trail sections, the greatest spending comes from visitors on day-trips.


The authors conducted user counts at four locations along the trail. These counts were done manually by volunteers who recorded approximate age, gender, type of use, and helmet use. A subset of trail users was asked to stop; those who stopped were asked questions about their residence location, trip purpose, and length of stay. The counts and surveys were conducted on two days (a Thursday and Saturday) in late August from 6:30am until 8:30pm.

These data were combined with 24-hour count data from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to obtain use estimates across multiple months. The authors divided the total number of counts in half to account for out-and-back trips.


Zhang, C., L. Jennings, and L. Aultman-Hall. 2010. Estimating Tourism Expenditures for the Burlington Waterfront Path and the Island Line Trail, Report # 10-003. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Transportation Research Center.