Economic Impact of Recreational Trail Use in Different Regions of Minnesota

Benefits studied:
Place: Statewide


This study found that across all regions in Minnesota, walkers and hikers are the largest group of trail users and account for most of the local spending, with half of the users in northern and central regions coming from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Activities such as ATV and snowmobiling are relatively small statewide in terms of users and spending, but they are very important sources of income in smaller communities in the northwest and northeast parts of the state.


This study is an example of a statewide assessment and demonstrates an approach to use publicly-available data, avoiding the expense of primary data collection. This study acknowledges the distinct regions of the state, which have very different economic and recreational resources. Another state-wide Minnesota study (64) relied more on collecting data via user group surveys, but had less emphasis on the regions within the state.


The study was conducted in five regions across Minnesota–Northwest, Northeast, Central, Metro area, and South. Results were also compiled statewide.

Trail Type

Ten types of recreational trails were surveyed in Minnesota: snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), bicycle riding, cross-country skiing, Off- Road Vehicle (ORV), horseback riding, inline skating, off-highway motorcycle (OHM), running/jogging outdoors, and walking/hiking outdoors.


The purpose of this 2009 study is to show the total use of each trail, both by local users and visitors, and their associated total spending. Ten trail types were surveyed to measure the contribution or significance of the trail to the local economy. Minnesota Recreational Trail Users Association (MRTUA) surveyed its members to create a profile of trail users, their expenditures, and their economic impact on local economies. The association contracted with the University of Minnesota Tourism Center (UMN) to conduct the study.

There are two separate reports. The first report presents a profile of trail users: the demographics, trail experiences, motivations, conflicts, and interactions.  The second report presents estimates of total trail-user spending in each of Minnesota’s regions and the economic impact on the local economy.


The study found that attractive recreational trails have improved the quality of life in all regions. Trails are used as an important recruiting tool by local businesses, chambers of commerce, and public agencies. In addition, the trails attract people with special skills or talents, and encourage new and expanding businesses. For example, a good snowmobile trail could stimulate sales, rental and repair businesses as well as lodging and restaurants, and subsequently provide jobs in customer service, marketing, engine repair, manufacturing, outdoor recreation and more.

Trails are small income generators compared to manufacturing, health services and other large sectors of the local economy.  However, trails’ impacts are concentrated in the most rural communities, and these impacts then spread to other regional businesses and commercial hubs. Trails only have an economic impact when they bring in money from outside the region, or induce spending by locals on equipment, guiding services, etc. that would not have happened otherwise. In this study, it appears that the northern and central regions, which attract visitors from outside the region, do experience an economic impact from outside spending. However, in the metro and south region, trail users tend to be locals who do not bring additional revenue to the community by using the trails. In these places, spending on trails-related equipment and spending by out-of-state visitors are the main economic impact generators.

Although the monetary benefits of traveler-spending in northern Minnesota are not felt in the metro area, access to developed trails and other amenities helps sustain the vitality of the metro population and the regional economy.

The author estimates the following annual economic impacts for 2008:

  • $2.4 billion in statewide trail spending in Minnesota.
  • $439 million in spending by out-of-state visitors, equivalent to 20 percent of total trail spending.
  • $492 million or 23 percent was spent by Minnesota residents traveling to other regions within the state.
  • State and local revenues from all taxes, fees and other sources amounted to $206 million.

Annual household purchases of new equipment and costs of upkeep reached $839 million, or 35 percent of total spending at the trails. This produced $1 billion in total business sales.


This study used the National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) survey to estimate use on ten types of recreational trails: snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), bicycle riding, cross-country skiing, off-road vehicle (ORV), horseback riding, inline skating, off-highway motorcycle (OHM), running/jogging outdoors, and walking/hiking outdoors.  Surveys of trail users were conducted during the summer and fall of 2008. The summer survey covered winter activities during the previous 12 months, while the fall survey covered summer activities during the previous 12 months.

The study estimated total person-days during visits by trail users and their spending on various consumer commodities, equipment, and other items.  It estimated average trail spending (dollars per person-day) by local residents, users from other Minnesota regions, and visitors from out-of-state.  Estimates of total spending for the three groups were calculated by multiplying the total person-days at the trails by the average spending.


Venegas, E. 2009. Economic Impact of Recreational Trail Use in Different Regions of Minnesota. MN Department of Employment and Development.