Jackson Hole Trail Project Economic Impact Study

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Place: Jackson

Overview

This study found that locals are the main beneficiary of the Teton County, Wyoming trail system, although visitors are increasingly enjoying area trails outside of Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The economic impact of the trails may be significant, but is difficult to estimate without knowing how many visitors come to the area just for the trail system.

Relevance

This study would be of interest to other communities looking for an example of an assessment of a community trail network, rather than individual trails. However, the findings from this study should be applied with extreme caution. The economic impact estimates are likely overestimates as the author attributes all local spending on trail-related equipment to the local trail system, although it is likely these are often used on trails outside the study area. Additionally, the author assumes visitors to the area are there primarily for the local trail system, when most are likely there to visit nearby Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Finally, it is unclear whether the analysis accounts for the fact that the most avid users are also the most likely to be interviewed at trailheads and spend the most on equipment. Without accounting for this effect, use and spending estimates are likely to be quite high.

Location

The study evaluated the economic impact of trails in Teton County, Wyoming, home of the town of Jackson, the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski area, and Teton National Park. The county population was 21,575 in 2013 and the town population was 9,777.

Trail Type

This study analyzes three trail systems located in the county: the Greater Snow King Area, Teton Pass, and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort area. All trails are within the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The three trail systems cover a total of 154 miles, and are used for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and other uses. Although there are more trails in the area, these were selected based on their proximity to the town of Jackson, having at least one trail longer than two miles, and having recently undergone or currently undergoing expansion.

Purpose

The Jackson Hole Trails Project Economic Impact Study was designed to measure the economic benefits from local and non-local trail users. While locals assume the trail system provides economic benefits to the community, these benefits had not been measured. Additionally, the study aimed to see how well the trails were meeting the goals outlined in the Teton County Comprehensive Plan and Jackson Hole Community Pathways Master Plan. This study was an unpublished Master’s thesis.

Findings

Trail users were mostly (56%) from either Teton County, Wyoming or Teton County, Idaho, and nearly all (95%) use the trail system at least once a week. Of the users surveyed, 53 percent of respondents’ trail activity was mountain biking, 39 percent hiked, and 8 percent jogged or ran. Two-thirds of respondents strongly agreed that having a well-maintained trail system located near their residence was important.

Half of visitors stated that the presence of a well-maintained trail system is important to their travel destination decisions. For visitors, accommodation was the largest expenditure at $65 per night and their stays averaged 7 nights.

Local businesses believed that bike sales and rentals have increased as trails and in-town pathways have increased.

Methods

The author conducted user surveys to understand demographics and preferences, satisfaction levels, and spending habits, and surveyed bike shops and guide services to better understand recreation-related spending in the area. The study combined these two survey sources to estimate the overall economic impacts of the trail system.

A total of 303 personal surveys were administered during June, July, and August of 2010, peak summer use times. A response rate was not reported. Surveys were administered mornings between 8 AM and 11 AM, midday between 11 AM and 2 PM, and afternoons between 2 PM and 6 PM. All trailheads located within each trail system were targeted during each of these time periods.  Every trail user present during these time periods was asked to participate.

The first section of the user survey included general demographic-related questions regarding location of residence, gender, age, and number of trail users by group on that particular day. The next section dealt with trail satisfaction, and the final section of the survey focused on expenditures.

Both local and non-local respondents were asked to document their Teton County-based expenditures on bicycles, bike parts, trail/bike shoes, trail/bike packs, hiking equipment, and maintenance and repairs. The closing questions were directed specifically at non-local trail users’ expenditures on lodging, bike rentals, guide services, groceries/liquor, restaurants/bar, entertainment, and gasoline.

A questionnaire was also distributed to all bike shops in the Jackson Hole area, asking about revenue and employment. Four shops responded.

Citation

Kaliszewski, N. 2011. Jackson Hole Trail Project Economic Impact Study (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). University of Wyoming. Laramie, Wyoming.