Study Shows $7.8 Million Economic Impact of Mountain Bike Trails

Nov 20, 2020 at 8:42
by James Smurthwaite  
Local Flavours Brevard NC

A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin River Falls Research Center (UW-RFRC) and Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) has shown that mountain bike trails brought $7.8 million a year to Bayfield and Sawyer Counties in Northwest Wisconsin.

The $7.8 million can be broken down into $2.3 million in labor income, $3.2 million in total value and the generation of 118 jobs. On average, each non-local visitor to the trails expected to pay $200 per day during their visit, and spending in restaurants, hotels and motels alone accounted for $1.8 million.

Some other statistics that we noticed in the report include the fact that nearly three-quarters of respondents travelled to the area to ride the trails and the typical non-local user of the trails stays in the area for two nights during their visit. The study reported that 2/3rds of the trail users were men, a majority (56%) were 45 or over and 61% had a six-figure household income.

Conducted over the summer of 2019 and winter of 2020, the study used a combination of trailside interviews, online surveys and infrared cameras to determine the behavior of mountain bikers that visited the trails.

A table showing where jobs have been generated because of mountain biking
A table showing the typical expenses of a visitor to the area that mountain biked.

CAMBA volunteers administered a brief in-person survey that queried riders on their general impressions of the CAMBA trails, likes and dislikes, riding habits and preferences, and personal expenditures during their visit to the CAMBA trails. Survey participants were also asked if they would be interested in taking a more detailed online survey as a follow-up to the initial interview. This data was then added to and factored with the intercept survey data. Paper and online surveys were forwarded to the UW-RF Research Center where they were tabulated and analyzed.

Down the hatch buddy.

The other principal component of the study was accumulating trail use data. This was accomplished by installing infrared trail counters at 12 locations throughout the CAMBA system. Counts were collected on a regular basis and tabulated at the end of the season. Trail use for the 2019 season totalled over 38,000 riders.

Ron Bergin, CAMBA executive director, said: “The total economic impact of mountain biking and other non-motorized sports in the region has always been elusive. The amount of time and work it takes to do this in a statistically valid manner is challenging. We decided to tackle this head-on and do it right. Working with David Trechter and Shelly Hadley at the UW-RF Research Center has been extremely positive and fruitful; their guidance and advice have been critical to the success of this project.”

It's great to see some more evidence of the positive impacts of mountain biking and hopefully this data can be used to justify the creation of more trails in future.

The full report can be read, here.


  • 77 1
 Build them and they will come! Great to see a lot of small towns and cities now having awesome trails in and around them. Mountain biking has become big business and everyone gains from this.
  • 56 7
 This is wrong in so many ways. First of all, peple will start to eat healthly to go faster, so fast foods will have an impact. After that, cars sales will go down, because people will focus on new bikes and parts and protection (protection is cool!).
Then there will be less people sick, less heart attacks, less diabetes, less fat people. This all will reduce income to doctors, hospitals, and, most pronounced, farmaceutical industry.
Can you imagine a world where less people depend on these things? I am certainly doing my part for this to happen!
  • 9 19
flag CSharp (Nov 20, 2020 at 14:50) (Below Threshold)
 @Notmeatall: That's the wrong way of thinking. Sure, for the Strava people who are in it for the records can stay in their own area and rack up all the KOM/QOM they want. When you're in another place, it's all about fun and supporting that local economy. Sure, you can cook you own healthy foods, but c'mon, you have to also live a little and enjoy the fine dining and local eateries, bike shops, people, and whatever they can offer. I find that it's a hassle to bring your own food in a big cooler just to save a few bucks here and there. When you go places and live well, the great memories is what it's about!
  • 26 0
 @CSharp: I think it was good old sarcasm
  • 4 0
 @Notmeatall: Fried food, Fried cars, Fried politics, Fried parents, Fried bacon, Fried sandwiches .... isn't fried better
  • 5 0
 @mw2bonn: On behalf of Scotland: yes, yes it is.
  • 2 1
 @Ozziefish: you made me remember battered deep fried mars bars
  • 1 2
 @Notmeatall: Think of all the fitness centers and gyms in your city - has the fitness centers stopped people from dining at fast foods? Has the introduction of gyms caused any reduced services for health care?

Adding a trail network will only have positive impacts on the community! As well as more people will travel into the community to put more money back into the economy annually, providing more and more growth, not a reduction. Just looking at it from a holistic approach, not just a mountain bikers view.
  • 1 0
 @Notmeatall: Huh??? What trails you at? Honalee???
  • 52 4
 Perhaps the unpopular opinion:

I'm not so sure MTB tourism (or tourism in general) is all it's cracked up to be. Yes, the numbers look nice. Yes, it brings in revenue for municipalities via sales and lodging tax. But, at least here in Fruita, CO, I don't see how that translates into better city infrastructure, amenities, or even more trails. The only new build we've had in years is the Palisade Plunge, which will be great, but it's largely funded by state grants. We're seeing more and more MTB traffic every year, with both a local and trail infrastructure not keeping up. Anyone who has been to Moab recently and sat in the bumper to bumper traffic can vouch for what can happen. This is, in my opinion, an overall negative effect for locals. We don't see an improvement in our community/lifestyle and in turn just get road and trail congestion.

Secondly, yes, it can bring in more jobs. However those jobs are largely lower-paying service industry jobs: restaurant staff, hotel, bike shop, baristas, bartenders. As tourism increases, real estate tends to follow and these employees find themselves pinched to live in the place they work and moved to for the MTB lifestyle.

I used to wave the tourism flag pretty hard, but 20 years in Colorado has me changing my mind. Be careful with "if you build it, they will come"....
  • 11 11
 Sorry to say but that is how capitalism works.
  • 7 0
 On the whole I agree with you, but there are areas (for example the economic void that is Delta County across the mesa from you where I grew up) that are ripe with terrain and no other real economic asset for which studies like this could be a real eye opener.

Especially as more and more people are able to work remotely.

For a place like that any job would be a good job haha.
  • 8 0
 @sarahallen - In all honesty, what do you feel would be the alternative?

You raise some fair points and I am curious what you feel the other options could be
  • 4 1
 Sounds like you have to work on your local politicians and community to come up with ways to capitalize more off of tourism. There are probably ways you can create jobs, funding for trails, and make traffic better. That needs to be done at a local level, and studies like these offer at least some example of how to make positive change. I hate to say this, but run for government boy! We need more MTB people in government.
  • 13 0
 There are definitely examples of over-tourism around the globe, and I think certain locations in Colorado are examples of this, much to the frustration of locals. That said, there are literally hundreds of examples around the world where mountain bike tourism dollars have revitalized communities. Fruita is a great destination to play outside but it’s no surprise that it sees a tonne of tourist traffic because of its geographic location between two cities with a combined population of 1 million.

You mention sales and lodging tax - add to this the money injected into small businesses such as restaurants, bike shops, breweries, cafes, privately run accommodations. I’m sure the “lower-paying service industry jobs” workers see great benefit from the tourism dollars being injected into their communities. There is a correlation between tourism and higher real estate prices but the alternative is what?.. No visitors and no money being injected into town meaning less jobs, lower wages but cheaper housing!?

The issue that you see in Fruita of tourism dollars not translating into better city infrastructure probably has nothing to do with where the money is coming from but more so how the money is spent by, (and the priorities of) your local government.
  • 3 0
 A think a commitment by the community to reinvest some of their newly earned income due to bike trails should be reinvested into at least that infrastructure to maintain it. Jobs and affordable housing are tough. Tourism destinations always fall pray to rising real estate costs (because they are desirable places to be). That doesn't mean however, that these destinations shouldn't make an effort to construct attractive, affordable, multi-family residential options that low income demographics can afford. I would also add the an economy built around tourism has limited opportunities for professional grade work (restaurant owners, shop owners, lodging owners/managers). Legal, Accounting, and STEM type work are often either very small enterprises or relegated to a larger nearby city. Medical opportunity, however, is typically an option in any township. Bottom line job opportunity very much depends on the size of the town and the makeup of the existing economy. Tourism centric economies yield jobs only relevant to tourism, which are often seasonal and predominantly service oriented.
  • 4 0
 Not disputing at all, but one thing to consider is this region's (NW Wisco) main economic driver is tourism... fishing is the biggest, then hunting and snowmobiling would be my next guesses. The silent sports like XC skiing and MTB aren't on the radar of the anglers, except for maybe during the CFTF40 when all the lodging is full.

I've been riding the CAMBA trails since the mid-90's and it's always been a fishing tourism base.
  • 6 0
 @sarahallen Then that means your city/county is not using the increase in gross receipt taxes in a way that is visible to locals. Perhaps something to take up with city council? Moab may be crowded but the town is centered around outdoor recreation and nothing is a tourist town period. And if people moved to GJ for the "mountain bike lifestyle" they certainly didn't show up there to grow the economy. They just came for the should we feel bad for them not being able to buy a home? I've said this to family members, "Colorado and Utah are places you go when you have money, not to make money." High cost of living, mediocre wages, and recreational activities that are pricey (skiing, biking, off roading, etc) don't make a good quality of life for everyone. But we welcome you in NM with the same recreation, lower costs, and non existent traffic!
  • 3 0
 @sarahallen Yup...those who don't live in areas that get this kind of tourism don't understand what happens when all of those people start flooding in.

But hey, get ready for more braided trails, trash everywhere, and more user conflicts! As long as those sweet tourism dollars keep rolling in.
  • 1 0
 We left Salida, For this very reason. Very expensiv e to live there with low paying service jobs.
  • 3 0
 @KavuRider: CAMBA trails have been a thing for 25 years now.

As to the braided trails, trash and user conflicts, most of the Midwest, but especially the Upper Midwest, have land managers that require certain standards for the trails. Typically (and this a very broad brush) there is an annual inspection of the trails and a "to-do" list during the summer for trail maintenance crews. On top of that most trails don't allow horses and the majority of trails in the Upper Midwest are directional.

The quality of Upper MI, WI & MN trails is pretty dang good.
  • 32 0
 This is pretty much exactly what I need and have been searching for to try to convince local politicians to let me dig. I'll have to scale it to the reduced population here, but still. Thanks!
  • 7 0
 These types of studies are fantastic tools for people and trail organizations to have when advocating for new/refurbished trails in their areas. There was a similar type of study done in Helena, Montana in 2018:
  • 2 0
 @MontanaEnduroSeries: Even better! I'll get reading. Thanks! You organize some great races, btw. thanks for your hard work.
  • 1 0
 I'm not sure where you live but I doubt the population is much smaller than Bayfield WI. If it is, I highly doubt its smaller than Copper Harbor MI which IMO has the best trails in the midwest while simultaneously having a one room school.
  • 17 0
 I live about 2.5hrs away from the camba network. Three major things to note. 1. This is home to the Cheq Fat Tire festival. This is one of the longest running mtb races in the United States. This venue alone brings in thousands of people for a race weekend year after year. 2. Secondly these trails are well established and have been around for i believe over 30 years. So there is a steeped heritage of riding in this area. 3. finally these trails rock. And are on the way to Copper Harbor MI or Duluth MN depending on your route. so if your looking for a great Midwest mtb trip that is not Bentonville put this on your list.
  • 6 0
 There's a bevy of great riding within a few hours. Duluth as mentioned is great and ever growing, the city of Chisholm used an abandoned mine site and created 25 some odd miles of fantastic new trail this year called Redhead. Tioga recreation area, Cuyuna trail network, Giants Ridge has lift accessed trail. Great to see natural terrain used for ecotourism. It's even been more widely accepted in closer to the metro, Victoria, Minnetonka, and Chaska all have new networks developed this year alone.
  • 2 0
 @isaacschmidt: I'm so stoked for the new infrastructure going in on the economic wasteland that is the Iron Range. As a native Duluthian, I have seen the direct impacts of the recent mountain biking tourism boom. It's fascinating - the best and most gravity-oriented trails are clustered in an area above one of the most dilapidated neighborhoods in the city. As the trails have been growing and growing, this neighborhood has grown with it, with a plethora of new locally owned small businesses and an outstanding array of food options. This revitalization is remarkable and is seriously boosting the city's economy. This is exactly what Chisolm and Biwabik and Virgina need to bring another layer of economic growth to the towns.
  • 2 0
 @jdhutch5454: coincidentally my old office was a block away from the base of that new connector beneath the power lines. Lincoln park has transformed within the last few years, great to see. Duluth is happening.
  • 6 0
 I live 30 minutes from a CAMBA system near Bayfield, WI. I average close to 50 rides per season there, plus help dig from time to time. It's been amazing to see what completion of this trail system has done for the local economy over the last several years. There have been a number of times when my van was the only vehicle in the trailhead parking lot with in-state plates. Other than a few neighbors complaining about road dust and speeding bike haulers (and you know who you are), it's been nothing but positives for our community.
  • 3 0
 The link to the actual study at cambatrails appears broken at the time I type this. I'm not an economics major, and I appreciate the overall positive impact for workers and businesses, but the induced effect seems like a grey cloud of magic 8-ball conjuring that I can't comprehend. Wikipedia says:

"Induced effects are the results of increased personal income caused by the direct and indirect effects. Businesses experiencing increased revenue from the direct and indirect effects will subsequently increase payroll expenditures (by hiring more employees, increasing payroll hours, raising salaries, etc.). Households will, in turn, increase spending at local businesses. The induced effect is a measure of this increase in household-to-business activity."

Is there an economics major that can explain how this is measured? I envision a bunch of accountants in a room at typewriters aggregating spending.
  • 3 0
 Try the link again now @iammarkstewart, it should be fixed
  • 5 0
 It's a multiplier effect where the new jobs for locals and increased profit for local owners result in more local spending by these benefiting locals. In short, more money coming into the region results in the directly benefiting locals spending their now-higher incomes in the region.
  • 1 0
 @jamessmurthwaite: Got it, thank you. Not sure why I was expecting anything less than 100 pages, haha.
  • 1 0
 @jcc0042: I can follow along with the concept, just curious as to the mechanics of calculating it. Seems like a gargantuan task to the layperson, but I'm guessing economic analysts do this the same way any of us go ride and hit a brewski, haha. Just hoping for the 30 words or less on how the math works.
  • 2 0
 @iammarkstewart: there are models called input-output models that have been calibrated using empirical data to identify how much of an additional impact the direct impact will have on the town. Basically, a statistical model was estimated using locales across the country to figure out the indirect impact of adding x jobs in industry y, conditional on the locale's characteristics (i.e. restaurants and retail stores per capita, and other characteristics that capture a place's ability to capitalize on increased incomes).
  • 1 0
 @jcc0042: 30-ish words or less works for me. I'm guessing the hard work was in the initial studies and setting up the models. Thank you.
  • 6 0
 Who would have thought, a bunch of people who ride 5K bikes have extra cash to spend haha.
  • 2 0
 Now if we could only get every small mountain town in the U.S. to recognize this...
  • 3 0
 But....we are not inclusive.......supposedly....
  • 3 0
 Turns out, its not just 5K bike riders. The northern Midwest bike scene is surprisingly blue-collar. Don't get me wrong, there are the dentists with carbon uber-sleds. But most bike shops stock the middle ground bikes: $1500 to $3000.

Also, and this is an important point here, is that many of these towns with big networks are TINY. Cable has a population under 900 people. So even "blue collar" riders just spending the night and getting a beer have economic benefit. That is the thing to remember. A hundred people visiting and spending $10 is $1000 you didn't have before. When hundreds of thousand visit in a year, spending far more than $10, it adds up.

Long-term these trails do more than get visitors, they bring young people into these small towns and make them more diverse, which helps them economically in other ways.
  • 3 0
 Seems like CAMBA has always been good about reporting economic impact... I remember filling out a survey well over 10 years ago on a trip up to Hayward/Cable.

Class act org, way ahead of the curve when it comes to building a community around a trail system.
  • 3 0
 @jamessmurthwaite Thank you for publishing this. Here in San Francisco Bay Area, Mountain Biking is pretty restricted. I will send this along to Bike Trails of the East Bay (that helps maintain Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland). Hopefully land manager will see a greater opportunity in having riders get more trails over time.

One small nit is that you used the term Principal Component in this line "The other principal component of the study was accumulating trail use data." Principal components and data are already intrinsically linked through the Singular Value Decomposition that is the back-bone of many popular and important clustering algorithms. Not sure if that was the connection you were drawing, but almost asked what did the other Principal Components say and what were you attempting to explain with it.
  • 3 0
 My company is based in Pleasanton (I'm remote and recently moved from Colorado to Bentonville) and I have spent a good deal of time in the Bay area over the years. It's astonishing how anti-MTB that part of California is, especially north into Marin County and similar...not sure about Southern California.
  • 2 0
 @bman33: Oh man. I heard Bentonville is amazing. It is a pretty complicated set of factors; lots of people in a small space, legacy residents with strong connections to land managers, other financial interests like real-estate (land is extremely expensive here as you probably know), local governments not having the staff to maintain infrastructure, etc.

Santa Cruz has some great trails and a growing network. It took them years, but I think they have turned a corner. Marin can't get out of it's own way. Baby Boomers that are members of "Footpeople" tend to be an issue from what I hear.

I would gladly pay $300+/year or more to ride on my local trails if they made it more accessible for bikes.
  • 2 0
 Every time I visit my mom in Montclair I take a hike around Joaquin. Such a cool Park. As kids in the late 1970s early 80s we bmx'd there and all over in the Oakland hills without a care in the world. I sure appreciate my life Bellingham WA when I see how anti mtn bike the bay area is. Pretty sad.
  • 2 0
 @penguinni: I just browsed thru the 'footpeople' web page.....WOW.

On a positive note, we are absolutely loving Bentonville. The whole NWA area is sprouting trails like weeds, the town of Bentonville and the surround areas are very bike friendly (bike lanes, bike racks, trails, etc. etc.), I am actually riding more now that in Denver since I can ride to 40+ miles of trails from my garage and within a 10-20 min drive even more...

Hopefully you guys can get the East Bay going strong for MTB soon enough. Cheers man.
  • 1 0
 @mikecito: That's cool! I see folks on fully rigid up there and always have a lot of respect for it. Bellingham is a mecca for biking as @mikekazimer would probably know. Especially as compared to Bay Area (minus Santa Cruz).
  • 2 0
 @bman33: I feel like Bentonville should be the model for much of the US. It’s a game changer for local companies and recruitment. If more of the country got into making their outdoor spaces more enjoyable, it would take a lot of the pressure off places like Colorado. You don’t need big mountains to make mountain biking fun.
  • 3 0
 @whambat: agreed and I came from an outdoor state. I still miss the mountains of Colorado but completely burnt out on Denver. Fighting to get anywhere especially on the weekends up in the mountains. the model here in Bentonville and the greater Northwest Arkansas area, is tons of open space, tons of recreation for all ages, manageable trail systems, bike lanes and bike friendly businesses. I can ride to a trailhead in 4 minutes from my garage or be downtown on my bike to cool restaurants, shops, and breweries in 10 minutes.
  • 3 0
 @bman33: I left Denver three years ago, after 13 years, because it has become too overrun. It was my second stint on the Front Range in the last 28 years. I don’t think I could ever go back. I have a friend who is now considering Arkansas, someone who I never would have thought heading anywhere South.

There is good potential for riding in almost every state, the big issues become if there is too much private land versus public space. I feel like that’s CA biggest issue.

I feel like it’s kinda like legalizing weed, if everywhere did it, you wouldn’t have people vacationing or moving just to the areas that did for it.

I’m glad to see CO towns like Trinidad finally capitalizing on their outdoor spaces to attract new residents and visitors.
  • 2 0
 Super interesting article. I'd be very keen to see how they validated trails as a variable factor for economic growth, as I can equally see trails popping up as a result of other factors like gentrification. Stoked to see the net result is such strong economic lift.
  • 3 0
 I've been riding locally so it's Canadian oil companies that are benefiting from my increased riding.

When Canadian borders open (it doesn't look very soon), foreign MTB traffic will pick up again.
  • 5 0
 Article about Wisconsin with pictures of North Carolina.
  • 16 0
 Good point. Those beers are WAY too tiny to be acceptable at any Wisconsin brewpub.
  • 1 0
 @swansong: hahahaha
  • 2 0
 @swansong: Cool thing about that brew pub is its also a bike shop.
  • 2 0
 @tack836: a brew pub that’s not big on porters
  • 2 0
 @tack836: My local bike shop gives out beers to customers as well, usually whatever can of Leinie's they have around. Beers and bikes just seem to go so well together.
  • 7 0
 @swansong: It's probably because 'those beers' are actually espresso.
  • 3 0
 Can I see what percentage of that is from mountain bikers buying craft beer? I already make fun of my own kind, but it would be nice to have the numbers.
  • 1 0
 $200 per day to ride a bike!any people ride every weekend so that could extrapolate out to over $20k per year just to ride! Plus your 10k bike. Then there is the car to get there...

Dang, how much you guys get paid over there. $200 is the price of a race weekend including fuel and entry over here.
  • 1 0
 Sorry if I missed this but is there a basic formula that can be used for mountain bike tourism: (Mountain biker) x (visit to your community) = this many spin off dollars? Because $200 seems high using their reverse formula. There must be a whistler standard or something out there.
  • 1 1
 One quick note here that pertains to most trail stewardships... CAMBA brought in 300k in 2018 (990ez tax form), 130k of which came from individuals and 160k came from business donations. Do they added 26x the value of their income to the community and yet they need to scramble for fundraising each year. Yes there is economic impact, but their work is also the baseline of this sport. From an industry currently boasting of hundred million dollar quarter 3s you would think there would be more wide spread support from major industry players...
Reference source - I'm one of the trail builders that runs a trail org sometimes scrambling for funds....
  • 3 0
 But that picture is from The Hub in Pisgah, in NORTH CAROLINA. FAKE NEWS!!! But way to go Wisconsin
  • 1 0
 Right! Makes me wonder about all the pictures from places I've never been if they're real or not.
  • 2 0
 I've ridden/raced up there. Its a great community with well built trails. Stoked to see them on PB.
  • 2 0
 So many places to drink beer in Wisconsin!
  • 1 0
 How did they determine demographics and household income? Did they survey every single rider that visited the trails?
  • 2 0
 You don't need to observe every single occurrence of something to estimate statistics that describe the population
  • 1 0
 @pmhobson: Yes but how large of a sample size did they survey? Hard to believe their conclusions without recognizing their underlying assumptions. Some people really suck at statistics and make false claims on incomplete or inadequate data to support their claims.
  • 1 0
 A business case for more trails is exactly the way to go. We need more of these studies all around the world!
  • 2 0
 Couldn't agree more. Fundamentally people like to have something to do when they visit a location. Give them something to do and they will come and spend their money. Trials provide a venue to do something. They inherently support restaurants, lodging, other tourism attractions.
  • 1 0
 Many thanks to COVID, people are coming out to ride...
  • 1 0
 maybe, but where did they take it from?
  • 1 0
 I usually buy snacks and drinks from towns we ride in.
  • 1 0
 Go Wisco!

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