Economic Impacts of MVSTA Trails and Land Resources in the Methow Valley

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Place: Okanogan County

Overview

This study found that the 200-kilometer Nordic skiing trail network in the Methow Valley of Washington state is the reason why many people visit the area and choose to purchase homes there. Non-resident trail users and residents alike are largely willing to pay some amount of money to support trail maintenance and additional trail construction.

Relevance

This study is relevant for other rural locations that have an opportunity to develop a regional trail system. These findings are evidence of how an extensive, high-quality trail system can be an important engine for attracting tourists and new residents. Although the study is a comprehensive assessment of benefits from the trail system, the benefits estimates may be somewhat high because the surveys were not statistically representative and the property value analysis was simple.

Location

This study was based in the Methow Valley in Okanogan County in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington. It is roughly 4.5 hours from Seattle and 4.5 hours from Spokane in the summer, longer in the winter. The main towns are Twisp (population 1,035 in 2013) and Winthrop (population 409 in 2013).

Trail Type

This study evaluates the impact of a destination Nordic skiing trail system totaling nearly 200 kilometers on federal, state, and private lands, one of the largest in the U.S. In addition to Nordic skiing, these trails are also used heavily in the summer for mountain biking and hiking, as well as equestrian use and fishing access.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to estimate the economic impacts of the trail network associated with the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA), who commissioned the study.

Findings

  • Half of non-local trail users ranked the valley’s recreational opportunities as the top reason to visit the Valley. One-third of residents ranked recreational opportunities as the top reason why they moved there.
  • Sixty-three percent of residents reported that the trail network was the most important factor in their decision to purchase real estate in the valley, and another 30 percent rated the trail network as “Important” in their decision.
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents were willing to support a trust fund to support trail maintenance and development. Both local and non-local trail users were willing to pay approximately $30 to contribute to a trust fund.
  • Roughly one-third of local respondents were willing to accept higher property taxes to support trail maintenance, one-third were not willing, and a quarter were unsure. Residents were willing to pay approximately $37 per year in higher property taxes.
  • Eighty-six percent of Methow Valley residents see Valley trails as very important; 87 percent of non-local trail users see these trails as very important.
  • Homes within one-quarter of a mile of a trail had 10 percent higher sale prices. Homes between one-quarter and one-half a mile had 9 percent higher sale prices.
  • Over half of businesses surveyed report recreational visitors as very important for revenue.
  • Over half of respondents cited the valley’s “natural beauty, wildlife, and open space” as very important to their business’ success.
  • Non-local trail users spent an average of $361 per day and stayed for four days. This does not include expenses incurred en-route to the area.

Methods

The authors conducted three surveys of residents, local and non-local trail users, and local businesses.

The resident survey included a random sample of 1,200 residents, of which 477 were returned (40% response rate). Residents were asked questions about trail use, trail-related spending, attitudes about trails, and quality of life.

The sample of local and non-local trail users was identified by leaving the surveys in hotels, posting the survey on the MVSTA website, and intercepting people along the trail during President’s Day weekend. Those who agreed to participate were given a paper survey which they then mailed in. Five hundred surveys were distributed, of which 225 were returned (45% response rate). This was not a statistically random sample, so findings cannot be extended to the whole population of trail users.

Surveys were distributed to 180 businesses, of which 76 percent were returned. The sampled businesses account for roughly two-thirds of area businesses, although it is unclear how these particular businesses were selected. Businesses were asked questions regarding their perceptions of trails’ impact on their business.

Visitation estimates were calculated using statistical methods to combine information from several sources: MVSTA trail pass data, visitation estimates on federal lands, and estimates from a regional economic model for the region.

Trail use estimates were combined with resident, trail user, and business surveys, and input into a regional economic model (IMPLAN) to estimate total economic impact in terms of income and employment.

To estimate differences in property values attributable to the trails, the authors used a statistical approach called a “hedonic price model” to compare homes that are identical in terms of structural and neighborhood characteristics, except for their proximity to the trail. The difference in prices between these two homes is the price premium associated with trails.

Citation

Resource Dimensions. 2005. Economic Impacts of MVSTA Trails and Land Resources in the Methow Valley. Methow Valley Sport Trails Association.