Riding to prosperity: Study quantifies economic benefits of bike trails

Bicyclists enjoy a ride on the Lunch Loops trails, which is one of three mountain biking trail systems in the county responsible for generating more than $14 million in economic activity each year, according to Colorado Mesa University researchers.

Three popular bike trail systems bring almost $14.6 million to Mesa County per year, according to a study recently published by researchers with Colorado Mesa University.

The study, called the "Grand Valley Public Trails Systems Socioeconomic Study," provides a look at how mountain bike trails benefit the area financially and also explores who exactly is using those trails.

Visitors to three popular bike trail systems in Mesa County also said they are satisfied with the trails the way they are — and the majority of them indicated the only thing they would change is that they want more trails.

Those who performed the survey intercepted trails users at the Lunch Loops, Kokopelli and 18 Road trails over a period of six weeks, from the last week of April to the first week of June in 2017. A total of 340 trails users responded to the survey, with 69 percent of them reporting they reside outside the county.

According to the study, the Lunch Loops trails are most evenly used by local residents and tourists, with a nearly 50-50 split in the users surveyed reporting they lived here or elsewhere. However, more than 80 percent of the users surveyed at the 18 Road and Kokopelli trails reported they lived outside Mesa County.

The visitors from outside Mesa County largely have significant disposable income, the study reflected. About one-third of the respondents indicated their yearly salaries were more than $125,000, and 67 percent of respondents said their income was at least $75,000 per year.

The study, produced by the school's Natural Resources Center, was funded by the Bureau of Land Management, Mesa County and the Mesa County Land Trust.

"I think it really helps us quantify things we know are happening," said Tim Casey, the Natural Resources Center director and one of the study's co-authors. The center has recently completed several studies that examine how communities connect with public lands.

In addition to determining how much tourists spend in the community as a result of visiting trails, researchers wanted to determine whether people would be willing to pay to use trails systems and also wanted to see what their opinions were about the facilities, interactions with others on the trails and their general experience. However, Casey said this isn't in anticipation of fees being charged for using those trails, it's more about determining a perceived worth from users, pinpointing a dollar value of a public good. The estimated willingness to pay for a day of trail use for the three trails averaged out to about $7.

Those in the mountain bike community said they weren't necessarily surprised by the findings that the trails attract users from outside the county who have money to spend and that the ripple effect from their spending in the community is significant.

"It's nice to have the confirmation that (trails) truly are a huge impact on the valley," said Chris Muhr, a board member of COPMOBA who has helped build trails since 1996. The volunteer organization builds and maintains trails and has five chapters across the western slope.

Regarding the study's mention that users would like more trails, Muhr said, "I would love to do that, but right now we're limited in the amount of money we have to do that."

Muhr said he sees bike trails as a great investment in the community to boost the economy and attract visitors who will spend money in the area, and he refers to that boost as "green money," since it's not extractive and doesn't require much overhead when one considers the payoff.

"Adventure tourism is the goose that laid the golden egg," he said. "It's an economic injection of new money into our system without really having to spend much money."

Recommended for you