April 2019 - BICYCLING
Making a Difference One Trail at a Time - Mountain Bike Tourism and Revitalization
By Michael Feldman
The positive impact mountain biking has on communities from a fiscal and health perspective continues to be reported. There are an increasing number of studies being conducted using a variety of models to quantify benefits of mountain bike tourism. Sources include state government, public advocacy groups and trade associations.
As industry and manufacturing companies, most with decades and some century old connections, pull the plug and leave, communities are often left with failing economies and sometimes the debris. There are success stories from across the country on how mountain biking has revitalized and reinvigorated these cities and towns.
Here are some of the success stories, mostly chosen because I have visited the trails for mountain biking. I’ve provided a brief overview of some of the benefits of bicycle tourism.
Singletracks.com conducted a survey of 1,400 mountain bikers from across the country. The survey found that 62% will travel to ride their bikes, averaging two trips per year, and the average tourist mountain biker will spend $382 per person.
Adventure Cycling Association, an advocate of both road and mountain bike touring, reviewed state conducted bicycle tourism economic impact. In 2012 Oregon reported $400 million; in 2013 Arizona reported $88 million; and Michigan in 2014 had a $668 million infusion of tourism from cyclists.
East Burke, Vt. – The poster child of how community involvement can transform a crumbling town into a tourist Mecca for mountain biking. A declining timber industry and a floundering ski area left the small town of East Burke with plenty of growth potential. Fifteen years ago, mountain bikers brought the town together and eventually created a network of over 100 miles of trails, most on private land. In 2016, they reported 103,000 visitors and brought in $8 million to the local economy. The Kingdom Trails Association has recently expanded with more trails nearby in East Haven, Vt. My wife and I typically make two to three trips per year to Kingdom Trails and stay with Joan Laplant at Burke View Inn. If not for the trail system, Burke View Inn would most likely not exist. Multiple new restaurants have opened and there are two thriving bike shops, East Burke Sports in-town, and Village Sport Shop trailside.
Oakridge, Ore. – In 1990 logging was declining and eventually the sawmill closed down. Not much was going on for the next decade and the town was eroding. In 2004, they received a grant to develop a mountain bike trail plan. As of today, they have 380 miles of trails and in 2014 a study reported that mountain bike tourism generated $5 million in direct spending. In 2016 my wife, Jody Dixon, and I made a trip out to Bend, Ore. to visit friends. On the way, we stopped and visited friends in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Victor, Idaho (ready to bust out as a biking destination!); and Moab, Utah – all great mountain biking areas in their own. We eventually made it to Bend, and were greeted by a welcoming party of local mountain bikers who mapped out their favorite local rides, and along with our host made us feel incredibly welcome. We were in Oregon for a month, making side trips to the city of Sisters, and eventually taking four days in Oakridge. The snow was still up in the mountains, but we managed to find more welcoming folks, and spent two days bikepacking along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. We definitely want to go back!
Copper Harbor, Mich. – With a population of 108, Cooper Harbor is a former mining and port town, with 35 miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails and 20,000 visitors per year. In Michigan, you cannot drive any further north to Lake Superior than Copper Harbor. It’s a long drive and I’ve done it twice. As other trails have grown up and expanded around Houghton and Marquette, Mich., Copper Harbor trails have progressed at a slower rate and that’s okay. The trails are worth it and there is something for everyone, a common finding in purpose-built mountain bike trails. Keweenaw Adventure Company estimates that mountain bike tourism accounts for one-third of the local economy.
Bentonville, Ark. – The home of Walmart and the Walton family, Bentonville has invested heavily in mountain bike tourism and it has paid off. The Walton Foundation has invested $74 million over ten years constructing over 150 miles of trails in Northwest Arkansas. A study by People for Bikes reports $137 million in 2016 economic benefits. Unique to the study, they have separated $86 million in directly-related health benefits and $51 million in business revenue. Traveling from outside the area, you need quite a bit of time to experience all the area has to offer, and it’s pretty awesome.
Western North Carolina – Brevard and Bryson City are the two hubs of mountain biking with Brevard having the greatest mileage and variety. They are the gateways to Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, with Brevard also boasting DuPont State Park. DuPont State Park has plenty of buffed flow trails but does not lack for adventure in any way. Pisgah is old school rocks, roots, and more miles of trail. Mountain bikers visit at about 435,000 times per year and spend about $30.2 million. WNC residents add another $18 million. Overall, mountain bike tourism supports 366 full-time jobs and $9 million in job income. In 2012 Oskar Blues Brewery of Lyons, Color. opened a satellite brewery in Brevard. The draw was not just the clean clear mountain water but also the mountain biking. They employee about 65 full-time employees.
Crosby, Minn. – In 1970 iron mining companies pulled the plug and left, leaving behind a scarred landscape, and a collapsing economy. Over the next 20 years the area became an illegal dumping ground. In 1993 the state cleaned it up, designating it a state recreation area, but no one came. Mountain bikers from Minneapolis, 125 miles away, lobbied the state to create their first mountain bike focused park. The state hired a professional trail building crew to construct 25 miles of trail opening in 2011. A study has shown 25,000 cyclists have generated $2 million annually to the local economy. Since 2011, 15 new businesses have opened, and once the planned expansion reaches 75 miles of trails, the impact is estimated to reach $21 million annually.
Plan for the Future: Peck Hill State Forest, Fulton County and the Adirondacks – There is one intangible commonality among successful mountain bike communities, the all-inclusive vibe that welcomes mountain biking tourists to the area.
The potential for communities to reap the benefits, both health and economic, is nearly limitless. One such community with exceptional potential is the Johnstown-Gloversville area in Fulton County. Currently three local state forests are undergoing review of their Unit Management Plan. Public hearings have already concluded. In the UMP, the NYS DEC has included mountain biking. The area was once an industry leader in leather goods. Those jobs have left, as well as jobs from a closed correctional facility. Not many manufacturing jobs remain and most of the well-paying jobs are a significant commute.
Three core variables are essential to success: resources, volunteerism, and buy-in from the community. Fulton County State Forest is a 5,000-acre resource. Peck Hill State Forest encompasses 2,700 acres, just south of the Adirondack Blue Line, and is closest of the three forests to Johnstown and Gloversville. The foundation of resources is immediately available. The Adirondack Velo Club has a volunteer stewardship agreement with DEC and has already laid out nearly four miles of perimeter trail in one parcel of Peck Forest. The potential for collaboration with Fulton County Trail Blazers, a snowmobile club, also exists. Matt Sherman, owner of Stump City Brewing, is a vocal proponent of building trails in Peck Forest. His brewery is across the street from the forest and has recently expanded their brewing capacity. Likewise, Neil Auty, owner of The Bike Works in Johnstown, has reported an uptick in mountain bike sales, especially noting an increase in sales of higher end mountain bikes.
Community support is essential for success. Local leadership from government, business and community stakeholders combined can develop a plan to link a trail system with Gloversville and Johnstown. Economic support in the way of grants and state funds would accelerate the building of trails. Further study, supported by grants, could also determine if professional trail builders are feasible.
Mike Feldman (beerjerseyrider.blogspot.com) of Benson will represent the Beer Jersey Riders in The Adirondack Trail Ride 2019.