Community Economic Contributions from Recreational Trails Usage on Public Lands: Implications from a Comprehensive Wyoming Study

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Benefits studied: ,
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Place: Statewide

Overview

This study found that trail-related recreation on Wyoming’s 10,000 miles of trails, both motorized and non-motorized, generates substantial spending for local businesses and tax revenue for state and local governments. While off-road vehicle (ORV) and snowmobile users generate far more spending in this analysis, the incomplete assessment of non-motorized users makes it difficult to make comparisons of impact between motorized and non-motorized users.

Relevance

This study is an example of state-wide recreation estimates, and provides some lessons on how to tackle these types of studies, particularly in states with significant public lands. The authors rely on use and expenditure data for non-motorized users from the four National Forests in the state. Because this omits two very popular non-motorized recreation destinations–Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks–as well as other federal and state lands, their analysis significantly understates non-motorized use and total spending. Because these data were not readily available, their findings should not be used to conclude that motorized use has a bigger impact than non-motorized use in the state.

Location

This was a statewide study in Wyoming.

Trail Type

The study included trails open to the public in Wyoming, administered by federal, tribal, state, local, and private entities. This included a total of 2,160 trails covering 10,472 miles, 92 percent of which are on federal land. It does not include trails in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to provide information about economic impact and economic benefits from a wide range of activities across the state. The authors hope this can help inform how public land agencies manage recreational use, particularly when those uses conflict. This research was supported by the State of Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources Trails Program, in cooperation with the University of Wyoming Department of Agricultural Economics and Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center.

Findings

  • Of the 2,160 trails, half allow cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, backpacking, and equestrian use, and a third allow bicycle use. A quarter of the trails allow motorized use, with 11 percent open to snowmobiling and 18 percent open for ORVs.
  • Snowmobile users spent an average of $98 per day for residents and $160 for non-residents.
  • ORV users spent an average of $41 per day for residents and $61 for non-residents.
  • Motorized users were somewhat willing to pay a fee at the trailhead to pay for trail improvements, with 27 percent of Wyoming resident sand 43 percent of non-resident snowmobilers in support, and 28 percent of resident and 34 percent of non-resident ORV users in support.
  • Over half ($84.3 million) of snowmobile-related spending came from residents, a quarter came from non-residents ($41.2 million), and the remaining $21.3 million came from commercially-guided clients.
  • Ninety percent ($185.7 million) of ORV-related spending came from residents; the remaining $20.5 million came from non-residents.
  • Non-motorized users on four National Forests in Wyoming generated $51.9 million in spending, 71 percent of which came from non-local users.
  • Combined, trail users account for $404.9 million in direct economic impact, 2,652 jobs, and $75.7 in labor earnings. For context, this represents 1 percent of the employed population in the state and 0.6 percent of labor earnings in 2013.
  • The authors estimate that 13 percent of the $3.1 billion spent annually on travel in Wyoming is attributable to trail users.

Methods

The study consists of three separate parts. The first, a trail inventory, involved updating an existing statewide trail inventory from 1998 by contacting all agencies and organizations involved in trail management.

The second part was a survey of motorized recreational trail users, including snowmobile and off-road vehicles (ORV), which gathered data on trail use, spending, and satisfaction. Snowmobile and ORV respondents were identified using a random sample of residents and non-residents who had paid a registration fee, and were therefore in the Wyoming State Trails Program database. The authors collected 361 resident and 414 non-resident snowmobiler surveys (34 and 38% response rates, respectively) and 498 resident and 546 non-resident ORV surveys (40 and 44% response rates, respectively). Respondents filled out either a mail or online survey. The authors also collected 113 surveys from clients of snowmobile outfitters; the response rate for this survey was not reported.

In the third part of the study, the authors evaluated economic impacts using findings from a 2011 IMPLAN analysis, responses from motorized trail user surveys, and the National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) database for non-motorized recreation. The authors use NVUM data for four National Forests in Wyoming (Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, Bighorn, and Medicine Bow-Routt) as the total non-motorized users in the state. These data are used as inputs into a regional economic impact model called IMPLAN.

Citation

Nagler, A., C. Bastian, D. Taylor, and T. Foulke. 2013. “Community Economic Contributions from Recreational Trails Usage on Public Lands: Implications from a Comprehensive Wyoming Case Study.” A Journal of the Western Agricultural Economics Association, 2013(Fall): 1-11.