Discovering the Economic Impact of Silent Sports and Trails

bike trails

January 9, 2013

Many of you know that I have been very involved with bicycle advocacy and have done dozens of presentations on the economic impact of bicycling. There are a lot of great data on what economic value an individual event provides to a local or regional economy. The economic impacts are huge. Promoting silent sports and bike trails can have a tremendous economic impact on a region.

But one question has remained unanswered: What is the annualized economic impact of silent sports and trails on a particular region?

In my hometown of Hayward, Wisconsin, we hold lots of events: American Birkebeiner, Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, Pre-Birkie, etc. These are large events. The "Birkie" is the fourth-largest ski race in the world with 12,000 participants, and the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival is one of the largest off-road bike races with approximately 3,000 participants. Additionally, we have a TON of world-class bike and ski trails, which is probably part of the reason why these events are located here. It is such a fantastic recreational area that people flock here to visit, purchase second homes, or just move here (like I did), despite its rural-ness.

So, how do we quantify what is spent on these events every year? People who sign up for the Birkie, often visit to practice on the ski trail a dozen times prior to the event. The same holds true for the other events.

Fourteen months ago, representatives and staff from University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension and I drafted a survey to capture the annualized data of those participating in our silent sport events. We sent our questionnaire to participants of about 15 events located in northwest Wisconsin counties of Bayfield and Sawyer, and captured data from 4,000 people. The questions were designed to learn about spending amounts and spending classifications; overall participation oin events and factors for participation; amount of days visiting the area; perceptions about the local recreational amenities; and demographics.

The results are being analyzed and we should have the final study documentation in four to five months.

One of the reasons we did this is to help other groups help themselves by allowing them to use our template for this type of study. When I speak on the economic impact of trails, a lot of my data is locally or regionally based. Many ask how they can get data on their own area. This template will be a great start. The questionnaire involved a lot of man-hours and was a ton of work. There's no need for other localities to reinvent the wheel.

By the way, the main reason bicycle and ski groups want this data is to help foster support for trail building or marketing efforts from land managers, chambers of commerce, and/or economic development agencies.

I will post the results when completed and will also be available to discuss our findings.