Columbia River Gorge Bicycle Recreation: Economic Impact Forecast for the Communities along the Historic Columbia River Highway
This study found that road cycling and mountain biking are valuable sources of income for communities close to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. According to survey results, a proposed trail improvement that would increase the uninterrupted length of the trail and improve rider safety could significantly increase economic impact by increasing the trail’s appeal for overnight users.
This study’s findings demonstrate the relative appeal of a safe, continuous trail, as opposed to several separate sections of trail interspersed by roads. This study is also unique in that the area is a destination for both road cyclists and mountain bikers. Because the survey was not a random sample, it is likely that more avid users and supporters of the trail extension responded, so the estimated increases in trail use may be somewhat high. However, because the authors carefully reviewed numerous road cycling and mountain biking destinations and used results from a separate, statistically valid user survey, findings related to visitor spending and factors that contribute to successful trail systems are relevant for many different trails.
The study is based along a roughly 70-mile stretch of the Columbia River and includes the communities of Troutdale (population 16,188 in 2013), Cascade Locks (population 1,033 in 2013), Hood River (population 7,214 in 2013), and The Dalles (population 14,730 in 2013) in Oregon, and along the Highway 14 corridor in Washington on the north side of the river.
The authors evaluated both a paved, road bicycling trail and the area mountain bike trail system. The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is a 62-mile paved trail, running from Troutdale to The Dalles, and is open to pedestrians and cyclists (although cyclists are the focus of this analysis). Trail users are currently diverted onto the interstate for an 11-mile segment; this study evaluated the potential impact of connecting the two parts of the trail, creating a continuous 73-mile route. The authors also evaluated 11 mountain bike trailheads in the area.
The purpose of the study is to document use and economic impact of the current trail, and forecast how trail use and economic impact might change when the current trail segments are connected. The study was prepared for the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon Tourism Commission, Port of Cascade Locks, Port of Hood River, and Port of The Dalles.
- For road cycling trails surveyed, annual growth in users often exceeds 10 percent.
- Growth in mountain bike trail use was only available for one system (Kingdom Trails in Vermont), which averaged 18 percent annual growth between 2010 and 2013.
- For both road cycling and mountain bike trails, trails that receive the highest use are located near population centers with easy access, but high-quality, well-marketed trails also can be a draw to rural areas.
- Successful road cycling trails and mountain bike trail systems require ongoing investment and expansion to maintain the existing trail and accommodate more users.
- Road cycling trails also require investment in marketing the trail as a destination.
- Mountain bike systems require investment to expand trails and accommodate a range of skill-levels.
- Day trip spending averaged $43 per party and $600 for overnight trips.
- The area had roughly 230,000 bicycle trips in 2013, 87 percent of which were day trips.
- This spending translates into $21.1 million in spending, $5.8 million in earnings in local businesses, and 273 additional jobs.
- More than half of visitor spending ($12.0 million of $21.1 million) occurs in Hood River, which has several lodging, food and beverage, and retail establishments.
- Approximately two-thirds of road cyclists and mountain bikers expect that the proposed trail extension will increase their use of the Gorge as a recreation destination. Of those who said it would increase their use, one-third of road cyclists stated they would increase their use by over 50 percent, while 18 percent of mountain bikers stated they would increase their use by over 50 percent. Half of road cyclists and a quarter of mountain bikers expect they would increase their number of overnight trips.
- Three-quarters of road cyclists and two-thirds of mountain bikers expect they would occasionally or regularly use a “bike-in only” campground in the Gorge.
Current use estimates and visitor expenditures were based on total visitation estimates by Oregon State Parks and estimates of the share of total visitors who rode bicycles. The authors obtained data on trip-related spending, trip characteristics, and general bicycling use via an online survey. The survey was hosted on the Travel Oregon website, and respondents were recruited through notices in bicycle shops, tour operators, and cycling clubs.
The authors predict future trail use by identifying comparable trails, and applying the annual growth rates these trails experienced. They identified nine comparable trails, which were all paved, in rural communities but reasonably close to urban areas, had travel services such as food and lodging available, were associated with water features, were at least 20 miles long, and had reliable data on use trends. They included the following cycling trails:
- Nature Coast State Trail in Florida
- Withlacoochee State Trail in Florida
- Silver Comet Trail in Georgia
- Longleaf Trace Trail in Mississippi
- Allegheny River Trail in Pennsylvania
- Sauk Rail Trail in Iowa
- Great Miami River Recreation Trail in Ohio
- Wood River Trails in Idaho
- Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho
The authors also identified seven comparable mountain bike trail systems, which met the following criteria: they comprised a trail system connected to a specific trailhead or community, were primarily rural with access to travel services such as food and lodging, were regional- or national-level mountain biking destinations, and had reliable data on use trends. They included the following mountain bike trail systems:
- Kingdom Trails in Newport, Vermont
- Forks Area Trail System in Augusta, Georgia
- CAMBA Trails Cable Cluster in Cable, Wisconsin
- Crested Butte-area trails in Crested Butte, Colorado
- Moab-area trails in Moab, Utah
- Curt Gowdy State Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming
It is unclear which specific models the authors used to translate visitor spending into economic impacts.
Dean Runyan Associates. 2014. Columbia River Gorge Bicycle Recreation: Economic Impact Forecast for the Communities Along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Prepared for the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon Tourism Commission, Port of Cascade Locks, Port of Hood River, Port of The Dalles.