Outdoor Recreation Net Benefits of Rail-Trails

By Siderelis, Christos; Moore, Roger | Journal of Leisure Research, Fourth Quarter 1995 | Go to article overview

Outdoor Recreation Net Benefits of Rail-Trails


Siderelis, Christos, Moore, Roger, Journal of Leisure Research


A relatively new type of recreation site is the recycling of an abandoned railroad bed into a rail-trail, which is able to accommodate recreation activities and transportation purposes. As of mid-1991, there were approximately 415 rail-trails in the United States and many more in either the planning or construction phases (Moore, Graefe, Gitelson, & Porter, 1992). The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reported that in 1988 rail-trails were used 27 million times for recreational purposes (Moore, Graefe, Gitelson, & Porter, 1992). Annual use in 1988 varied from 1,800 user-days for a 7.5 mile trail in Illinois to a high to 1 million user-days on the 44.5 mile Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Northern Virginia. Regnier (1989) found corresponding increases in the miles of rail-trails, from 70 to 156, and visits, 81,000 to 217,000, between 1980 and 1988 in Minnesota. A 1978 study of the Lafayette/Moraga Trail in California estimated annual use at 116,000 visits.

Lawton (1986), investigating the annual economic impact of the 23.5 mile Sugar River Trail (bicycle trail) near New Glarus, Wisconsin, found that trail users spent nearly Q6430,000 in 1985 or Q69.04 per person. Users of the Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin during 1988 spent on the average $14.88 per day and the annual economic impact was estimated to be $1,257,000 (Schwecke, Sprehn, & Hamilton, 1989). A 1989 study by the U. S. Forest Service of 19 Illinois bicycle trails, some of which were rail-trails, found that on average users spent $2.89 per person/trip. Similarly, Minnesota reported the average amounts rail-trail users expected to spend on the day they were interviewed varied from $1.90 to $8.38.

In the determination of visitor spending for rail-trails and estimates of economic impacts, no measures of the user benefits were derived for rail trails. Other than the Mendelsohn and Roberts (1983) hedonic study of the demand for forest attributes by hikers in the Olympic National Park, we can find no other published valuation studies of trails. This study is intended to expand the recreation economics literature on trails by estimating the net benefits realized by representative individuals from a sample of geographically diverse rail-trail settings in the U.S.

The term net benefit in recreation economics expresses a gain (consumer surplus) in annual income or well being and is interpreted as user willingness-to-pay, over and above the actual travel expenditures, for access to a particular site. In light of the projected growth in day trips for hiking (91.2 million in 1987 to 293 million by 2040) and cycling (114.6 million in 1987 to 222 million by 2040), estimates of the economic benefits of rail-trail sites should be useful to land managers and recreation trail planners (Cordell, Bergstrom, Hartmann, & English, 1989). Federal agencies (e.g., U.S. Forest Service) estimate the values of different types of recreational trips as part of their outdoor recreation planning processes. Study results could be used to evaluate the aggregate benefits from introducing new rail-trails or changes in the types of activities supported at existing trails as the product of the benefit per trip times the typical number of trips taken annually per user by the number of recreationists. A requisite step in the estimation of user benefits is to statistically model user demand for trips to rail-trails.

Study Sites and Research Method

Study data were obtained from three separate surveys of rail-trail participants in different states during 1991 (Moore, Graefe, Gitelson, & Porter, 1992). Rail-trails represented the diversity of the overall population in the United States with the following criteria used in selecting trails: region of country, surrounding population, density of population, physical setting, land ownership pattern, trail length, and type of managing authority. The rail-trails included the Heritage Tail in Dubuque County, in eastern Iowa, the Tallahassee to St. …

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