More than 70 people attended the Iron County Citizen’s Forum program on economic impacts of recreation trails Monday, Aug. 11, at the Mercer Community Center.
This program was the second in a series the forum is organizing on economic opportunities.
Dave Marcouiller, UW-Extension resource economist, discussed his research on Wisconsin state trail systems, highlighting the Cheese Country Trail in southwest Wisconsin. This multi-use system draws primarily ATV riders. On that trail system, two-thirds of the users are not local, bringing about $13.2 million to the local economy. He stated that motorized users are generally older and more affluent. He cited other studies on the Gandy Dancer Trail system, and silent sports in northwest Wisconsin (such as the Birkebeiner ski race).
Marcouiller has also studied user conflicts. Most important is citing trails so non-motorized and motorized uses are separated. He concluded by sharing the assets to communities from recreational trails. These include higher quality of life and community pride, access to the outdoors, economic stimulus, natural resource conservation, healthy lifestyles and reduced crime.
Blake Theisen, recreation trail planner, followed with a talk on silent sport trails and biking in particular. He said that 49 percent of Wisconsin residents ride bikes and that biking contributes $925 million to the state economy annually.
One important factor in economic impacts is to increase the non-local spending. Fifty-seven percent of Wisconsin’s biking dollars are from non-residents.
Theisen talked about health benefits from biking, cost savings from traffic reduction, and a growing interest in biking by baby boomers.
He calls biking “the new golf” for people over 50. Theisen went on to talk about trail design and funding sources. Most funds for bike trail development come from the Department of Transportation and are federal funds. The DNR also has funds for bike trails.
Will Andresen (UW-Extension) gave a brief update on new Iron County Trail initiatives. He talked about the trails from Montreal to Wakefield where bike and ATV trail groups partnered on planning and grant writing.
This partnership will create separate trails on two different railroad grades. He also gave an update on the Mercer bike trail, which will eventually reach the Vilas County line and provide a link to Vilas trail systems.
During a question and answer session, audience members asked about many characteristics of motorized versus non-motorized trails.
Marcouiller talked about the importance of motorized trails for handicapped and older citizens. When asked about which groups spend more, both speakers reinforced that the dollars per trip or number of recreationists is not as important to economic growth as increasing the non-resident dollars.
When asked specifically whether Vilas County could benefit from developing ATV trails, Marcouiller said that with proper planning and separation of user groups, it would be a benefit to the county. There were questions on property value impacts, maintenance costs, costs versus benefits, and how state trail systems get prioritized.
The next Iron County Citizen Forum program will be held Monday, Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m., at the Hurley High School auditorium.
The program topic will be developments at Copper Peak ski jump and regional economic development partnerships. The speaker will be Bob Jacquart.
For more information about the September program, or the Citizen’s Forum, call Terry Daulton at 715-476-3530.