Motorized Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Development within Trailside Communities

Place: Green, Lafayette, and Iowa Counties


In southwestern Wisconsin, a 47-mile trail is a destination for non-local motorized trail users, who generate over $13 million dollars in spending each year. When the study was conducted, the railroad owner had petitioned to rebuild a portion of the rail line along the trail. This study was used to demonstrate the trail’s benefits to communities near the trail.


Findings from this study would be relevant for other communities near trails that are destinations for motorized uses. The sampling methods provide a template of how to conduct counts and surveys over a year-long period for communities wishing to gather their own primary data.


The trail is located in Green, Lafayette, and Iowa Counties in southwestern Wisconsin, between the towns of Monroe (population 10,781 in 2014) and Mineral Point (population 2,489 in 2014).

Trail Type

The Cheese Country Trail is a 47-mile trail running along a former railroad bed.  Although non-motorized uses are allowed, the trail surface is rough and most heavily used by ATVs and other motorized vehicles.


The purpose of this study is to better understand the use patterns and potential economic impact from motorized trail users. The catalyst for studying this trail system was the railroad that owned part of the railroad right of way under the trail wanting to reconstruct the rail along 4 miles of existing trail. Local stakeholders were concerned that the trail would be eliminated if the railroad were reconstructed.

This study was funded by the Tri-County Trail Commission, the Southwest Badger Resource Conservation Development Council, the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and the University of Wisconsin-Extension Cooperative Extension Community, Natural Resource, and Economic Development Program.


  • The trail saw approximately 98,000 visitor days during the 12-month study period. Fifty-eight percent of these visitor days were between June and August.
  • Two-thirds of visitor days were taken by non-local trail users, and three-quarters of all visitor days were on weekends or holidays.
  • Almost all non-local users were using a motorized vehicle, three-quarters of which were ATVs.
  • Using the trail was the primary reason for visiting the area for roughly 85 percent of non-local trail users.
  • Three-quarters of non-local respondents were on day trips, which means food and gas were the largest expenditure categories, followed by lodging (for most destination trails lodging is the highest expenditure category).
  • Non-local trail users spent $187 per trip during the winter and $218 during the summer.
  • Both trail users and business owners saw a need for increasing trail signage directing users to local businesses.


The authors collected data using random intercept surveys along the trail during a 12-month period. The surveys were conducted by local field staff over a total of 2,000 hours during that time. The authors verified survey data during three focus groups, which also gathered information from local businesses and governments.

The authors used visitation and expenditure estimates as input into the regional economic model, IMPLAN.


Carper, C., J. Guth, E. Kakde, D. Marcouiller, P. Ohlrogge, and L. Wolfe. 2012. Motorized Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Development within Trailside Communities. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Division of Cooperative Extension Publication #G3965.