Mountain Biking in the Chequamegon Area of Northern Wisconsin and Implications for Regional Development

Uses studied:
Place: Cable


This study found that the Chequamegon trail system in northern Wisconsin attracts numerous mountain bikers, who generate a sizable economic impact. According to trail users, the most important aspects of the trails are its natural, quiet setting and lack of motorized vehicles.


This study represents one of the earliest efforts to quantify mountain bike-specific economic benefits. Given this trail system’s continued expansion and associated marketing efforts, the study findings likely significantly understate the impact of today’s trail system. However, it still provides a benchmark for a significant regional trail system.


The study is based near Cable, Wisconsin (population 825 in 2013). The closest major city is Duluth, Minnesota, roughly 1.5 hours away. Minneapolis and St. Paul are 3 hours away.

Trail Type

This study addresses the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Trail System, a major mountain biking destination in the Midwest that includes 300 miles of mapped routes.


The purpose of the study is to document mountain biker demographics, learn preferences for different trail attributes, identify sources of conflict with other trail users, and estimate their economic impact on the area. At the time the study was conducted (1997), mountain biking was relatively new and rapidly-growing sport and land managers and planning agencies were eager to better understand how to manage it. The U.S. Forest Service, Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, the University of Wisconsin, RockShox, and the International Mountain Bike Association collaborated on this project.


  • Approximately 22,630 people rode the trail system during the 1996 season.
  • The top three trail attributes listed by respondents as important were: natural surroundings (94% of respondents), quiet settings (86%), and no motorized vehicles (85%). The attributes most commonly identified as “not important” were: wide enough to ride beside others (56% of respondents), smooth surfaces (52%), and having places to buy food and drink (49%).
  • Having a number of trails available and a variety of trail types was rated “important” by 90 percent of respondents.
  • Over half of respondents learned about the trail via word-of-mouth, 36 percent learned about it through brochures at trade shows and bike shops, and 33 percent saw a print media article.
  • Trail users whose primary reason for their trip was riding on this trail system spent $630,000 within 30 miles of Cable in 1996. This spending was associated with $523,500 in labor earnings and 35 jobs.


The authors collected data in two stages. For the first stage, they distributed short surveys printed on cards to local bike shops, restaurants, hotels, and trailheads. The 319 respondents to this initial survey were asked to complete a longer, follow-up survey that contained questions regarding trail preferences and management, attitudes about trails, marketing strategies, and expenditures. Of these 319 initial respondents, 280 agreed to complete the follow-up survey; 212 returned the final surveys (66% response rate). Expenditures were only included in the economic impact analysis for the 84 percent of respondents whose primary purpose was riding on the trail system.

The authors estimated use from trail counters installed at all trailheads.


Sumathi, N. and D. Berard. 1997. Mountain Biking in the Chequamegon Area of Northern Wisconsin and Implications for Regional Development. Center for Community Economic Development, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.