Economic Impact of Non-Commercial Paddling and Preliminary Economic Impact Estimates of Commercial Paddling in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests

How to cite this study

Maples, J.N. and Bradley, M.J. 2017. Economic impact of non-commercial paddling and preliminary economic impact estimates of commercial paddling in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Washington, DC: Outdoor Alliance.


This study conducts an economic impact analysis of paddling expenditures for both noncommercial and commercial paddlers on rivers in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests in North Carolina. Results indicated that noncommercial paddler visitors spend an estimated $3.2 million annually across seven rivers.


This study is relevant to leaders interested in quantifying the economic impacts of paddlers on water trails. Results should be interpreted with caution as the survey is a convenience sample, meaning that results may not reflect the expenditures and preferences of a typical paddler. Additionally, commercial paddlers’ expenditures were calculated by extrapolating from noncommercial paddlers’ expenditures, which may lead to an inaccurate estimate of expenditures for commercial paddlers. 

Additionally, the mean expenditures for several rivers should be interpreted with care due to low response rates. Finally, the authors do not consider the length of visit for paddlers and how they could affect the economic impact of mean expenditures per visit. However, on the survey, respondents indicated they spent an average of three nights per visit. This indicates an avenue for further research.


The study is located in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests (NPNF), which cover more than one million acres in North Carolina.

Trail Type

For noncommercial economic impact, the study focuses on seven rivers within the NPNF in North Carolina: Nantahala (8 miles available for paddling), French Broad (8 miles), Nolichucky (8.5 miles), Cheoah (9 miles), Wilson Creek (2.5 miles), Big Laurel (3.5 miles), and North French Broad (8 miles). For commercial economic impact, the study focuses on three rivers: Nantahala, French Broad, and Nolichucky. All are water paddling trails.


The aim of this research is to estimate paddling noncommercial and commercial annual economic impact across rivers in the NPNF. The study was funded by Outdoor Alliance.


  • Noncommercial paddler visitors to the NPNF spend an estimated $3.2 million annually across seven rivers.
  • Noncommercial paddling tourism supports 35 full-time jobs and $827,000 in job income.
  • Commercial paddler visitors may contribute $36 million annually across three rivers in the NPNF.
  • Commercial paddling may support an estimated 446 full-time jobs and $10 million in job income. Commercial padding estimates should be interpreted with caution.


Data was collected through an online survey sent to individuals who paddled in the NPNF in 2017. The survey collected information on demographics and expenditures using Qualtrics. Because of these sampling methods, the results may not reflect the preferences of a typical paddler. The total sample was 105 local paddlers who lived in western North Carolina and 307 visitor paddlers who lived outside North Carolina. Using data from American Whitewater, the U.S. Forest Service, and local commercial paddling operations, the authors estimated 40,076 noncommercial paddlers across seven rivers and 199,155 commercial paddlers across three rivers. Expenditures were separated by visitors and residents in the analysis using IMPLAN.

Added to library on November 7, 2023