Cook County Winter Trail Use Study: Technical Report

Benefits studied: ,
Place: Cook County


This study found that residents of Cook County, Minnesota, a destination for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, see both activities as having a significant positive impact on the local economy. However, some residents are willing to have less local spending in exchange for fewer conflicts with residents and other user groups.


The structure of the survey and data analysis provides a framework for understanding conflicts between user groups. The approach these authors used could be helpful for informing management decisions in other locations experiencing conflicts between large, economically-significant user groups.


This study is based in Cook County, Minnesota, population 5,206 in 2013. Cook County is on the shore of Lake Superior, and is approximately two hours from Duluth, Minnesota, population 86,239 in 2013.

Trail Type

The study addresses groomed trails for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing throughout the county. The area is a destination for both activities, with 450 miles of snowmobiling trails and 400km of cross-country skiing trails.


The purpose of this study is to compare resident attitudes about snowmobiling use with attitudes about cross-country skiing, with the goal of minimizing conflict, improving the efficiency of marketing, and informing future trail and amenity development. This study was sponsored by the Northeast Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnership.


  • Although the area is known as a destination for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, residents also participate in these sports. Roughly half of respondents participated in either activity.
  • Many residents are in favor of paying a $10 property tax to provide trail facilities, with 28 percent in favor of providing facilities for snowmobilers and 40 percent in favor of facilities for skiers.
  • Residents are aware of participants in both sports: snowmobilers are noticed frequently by 72 percent of respondents and cross-country skiers are noticed frequently by 61 percent of respondents.
  • Ninety-five percent of respondents believed that snowmobilers have had a positive impact on the county’s economy.  Despite this, 22 percent of respondents would like to see fewer of them (42% would like to see more).
  • Eighty-eight percent of respondents believed that skiers have had a positive impact on the county’s economy. In contrast with snowmobiling, 2 percent would like to see fewer and 69 percent would like to see more.
  • Two-thirds of respondents thought snowmobilers create problems for residents. The most common problems are noise, driving on private property, driving off trails, and speeding.
  • Six percent of respondents thought cross-country skiers create problems for residents. The most commonly-cited conflict was opposition to snowmobile use.
  • The authors found little difference in responses between respondents who own hospitality-related businesses and other residents.


The authors conducted a phone survey of a random sample of households in the county, obtaining data from 105 respondents of the 162 households contacted (a 65% response rate). They also surveyed 51 hospitality-related businesses in the county using the same survey instrument. The survey was conducted in the fall of 2002, prior to the snowmobiling and cross-country ski season.

Respondents were asked questions about their participation in both sports, their awareness of the two user groups, their opinion on each sport’s impact on the economy and the environment, their willingness to invest in infrastructure supporting each activity, and basic demographics.


Bureau of Business and Economic Research. 2003. Cook County Winter Trail Use Study: Technical Report. University of Minnesota Duluth School of Business and Economics Research Report.