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Feb. 13, 2006 – Following the money trail

February 13, 2006
Filed under Features

As all-terrain vehicle organizations across the country work with their county and state agencies in pursuit of more legal trail systems, they can find themselves doing as much educating as advocating. Community decision makers often don’t realize the economic benefits of off-highway vehicle use.
“Many economic development groups at the local level just don’t think about it,” said Jack Terrell, project coordinator for the National OHV Conservation Council, Auburndale, Fla.
While the amount will vary from place to place, the economic impact is indisputable both in direct revenue and secondary development. It can add up to millions of dollars.
Consider the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System area. Five years of survey data there reveals that more than a third of OHV users stay three days while another third spend more than three days. On average, they spend $113 per day or $340 per trip per person.
“That’s accumulative data, so they might be spending even more,” said Mike Pinkerton, director of marketing for the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in Lyburn, WV. “In 2005, they certainly spent more for gas.”
In addition to direct revenue, Hatfield-McCoy continues to drive business growth in the surrounding areas, as well. Patrick and Sharon Garland, for example, have grown a small bed and breakfast business in Matewan into a thriving hospitality enterprise, and are just one example of the many service businesses that have opened in southern West Virginia since the trail system opened five years.
That success is now being replicated in other communities, such as those around the Coal Creek OHV Area in Tennessee, and serves as a model for new developments like the Jericho Lake ATV Park in New Hampshire and the Rock Run Recreation Area in Pennsylvania.
As more and more communities begin to make the connection between OHV recreation and their economies, the success stories will undoubtedly multiply.
Hatfield-McCoy Trails
Lyburn, West Virginia
Three years ago, Patrick and Sharon Garland opened the Historic Matewan House, a bed and breakfast catering to ATV guests with such services as a pressure washer to hose down muddy machines, ATV lock-ups and overnight laundry service, all for the $69.95 nightly price of the room.
At the time, they estimated at least 80% of their business had to come from ATV riders for them to remain profitable. It was never an issue. The B&B was booked before it opened, and it wasn’t long before the Garlands added a bunkhouse and some private cabins giving them the capacity to sleep up to 50 people.
Given the demand, they didn’t stop there.
The couple recently purchased one of the town’s historic buildings housing three retail units and six apartments. They are renovating the apartments and marketing them to ATV clubs as timeshares. The units, some of which have already been sold, go for $3,000 a week, bringing in an annual revenue of nearly $1 million. Should the clubs have vacancies during their allotted weeks, they can sell the space back to the management company, which will make it available to others.
The Garlands also are in the process of purchasing land for what will be the 16-unit Sid Hatfield Inn. In their business plan, they project that the new inn will put $7 million into the local economy over a 30-year period.
“We are not a Marriott or Hilton, but in Smalltown USA that is a tremendous amount,” said Patrick Garland.
In a business where 65% occupancy is considered good, the Garlands are stellar performers with 100% occupancy from March through December.
“We’re booked now for the next 14 months,” Garland said.
The Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority expects 2006 to be another record year in permit sales with at least 30,000 permits sold.
Jericho Lake ATV Park
Berlin, New Hampshire
Pamela Laflamme’s phone is ringing off the hook these days as word spread of the soon-to-be completed Jericho Lake ATV Park, which is on the outskirts of Berlin, N.H. As the town’s city planner, she anticipates a significant ripple effect from the new development.
“There is a lot of interest for the land surrounding the site,” Laflamme said. “Someone wants to do ATV sales and repairs, someone else RV camping, someone else a housing development — that kind of interest has been very strong especially the last several weeks.”
With the help of ATV registration fees, the Division of Parks and Recreation, part of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, is purchasing 7,200 acres for the park from T.R. Dillon Logging for $2.1 million. An additional 290 acres, including Jericho Lake, is being donated by the city of Berlin.
“The lake, which is manmade, was donated to the city several years ago for flood control, but we haven’t had the resources to make it everything that it could be,” Laflamme said. “To have the state take it over and make it part of the state park system is very appealing because we are still able to retain it in our community.”
About 60 miles of logging roads will be open for snowmobilers and ATVers almost immediately after the purchase is finalized, with another 300 miles planned as the park is developed. In addition, the park will offer other recreational opportunities, such as swimming, skiing, snowmobiling and hiking. The state is already negotiating with a local ski club about relocating the club’s trail system to the Jericho property.
The purchase could be finalized as soon as the end of January and the park could open in the spring. Because the company will retain about 3,000 acres within the area, it must subdivide the land before transferring ownership of part of it. Dillon also will retain logging rights to the park property for four years following the sale.
While it is too early to put any dollar amount on what the new state park will mean to Berlin, it is expected to go a long way in turning an area that has long relied on the pulp and paper industry into a tourist destination site.
“This really adds to the diversity of what we can offer,” Laflamme said. “We are now seeing some of the secondary economic impacts that will come along and I think that the more the park develops, the stronger we’ll see the development around the park.”
Croom Motorcycle Park
Brooksville, Florida
Located 40 miles north of Tampa in the Withlacoochee State Forest, the Croom Motorcycle Area was established in 1973 and, until last year, was the only state property in Florida open to OHVs. The 2,600-acre, open ride site brought in approximately $750,000 in permit and camping fees in fiscal year June 2004 to July 2005. Part of that money is now being used for an economic impact study.
“We’ve contracted with the University of Florida and a professor and grad student are now doing an economic impact study for the four surrounding counties,” said Chris Reed, OHV coordinator, division of forestry, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Brooksville. “They started the formal survey process the end of December. We expect some preliminary data by the end of April and the final report the end of summer.”
The study was prompted by the Florida OHV Advisory Committee, which believed that positive results would go a long way to promoting the sport to other counties as a valid recreation activity.
Access to legal trails in Florida is growing. The state recently opened 150 miles of Tate’s Hell State Forest and about 38 miles in Mallory Swamp to OHV use.
“There is a true need,” said Reed. “We’ve had over 100,000 registered OHVs in the state since 2002. Essentially, from Orlando south there are no legal riding areas on public land, and I would guess that at least 70% of our population live down here.”
Permit revenue has increased dramatically. From 2003/2004 to 2004/2005, revenue increased by $80,000.
Rock Run Recreation Area
St. Lawrence, Pennsylvania
Rock Run has yet to open but Wes Barnhart, owner of Barnhart Yamaha, Altoona, Penn., has already sold a few ATVs to riders who want to be ready for the first legal trail system in the area.
“I don’t know that our sales will increase by 25%, say, but even if we sell 10 units because of it, that’s 10 more sold,” Barnhart said.
As one of the members of the Rock Run Advisory Board, Barnhart is 100% behind the new 6,000-acre Rock Run Recreation Area, slated to open in October. The property, which was once a strip mine, is now owned by the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority (CCCRA) and is expected to be a long-term economic boost for both Cambria and Clearfield counties.
Given that half of the purchase price came from snowmobile and ATV registration funds, CCCRA’s immediate focus is on ATV trails. The initial goal is to have 50 miles of trail when Rock Run opens, with hundreds more to be developed over time. Future plans also call for camping sites, a motocross track, and trails for hiking, horse-backing riding, mountain biking and more.
“Eventually, we might even have an off-road section for Jeeps to do rock climbing and that sort of thing,” Barnhart said. “We want to make this a place where families can come and spend a weekend.”
Once Rock Run is operational, figures will be tracked to determine its economic impact in the region.
Coal Creek OHV Area
Oliver Springs, Tennessee
Pretty much every Saturday, members of the Windrock ATV Club can be found spending at least a few hours maintaining some of the hundreds of miles of trails within the Coal Creek OHV Area, in Oliver Springs, Tenn., about 30 miles north of Knoxville. The club agreed to manage and maintain the trail system when the Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company (CCMMC) opened the 72,000-acre property for recreation in 2000. Every third Saturday is the official club workday at the area, but heavy use ensures that there is always something to do.
“After about the second year, use really started to jump. We sold 30,000 permits last year, and we see it going up by 30% this year,” said Dale McKinney, past events coordinator for the club and now a member of the club’s board of directors in Knoxville, Tenn.
Currently access to the area is from the city of Oliver Springs. Mayor Ed Kelley doesn’t have the resources to track the economic impact of the area, but he knows that it is huge.
“You can go out to any service station and see eight or 10 machines there at a time,” he said.
The city of Oak Ridge calculates the economic benefits of the Coal Creek OHV area based on hotel occupancy rates.
“I do what I call minimum economic numbers,” said Joe Valentino, president of the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau in Oak Ridge. “Just straight numbers it’s $619,000 (annually), so it amounts to $1.8 million to $2 million with a multiplier of three assuming that each dollar turns over in the community three times.”
The Windrock ATV Club hosts two events each year, drawing upwards of 3,500 to 4,000 participants, while hundreds of off-roaders with of all types of vehicles — ATVs, motorcycles, Jeeps, buggies and so on — enjoy the area each weekend.
Numerous improvements are in the works. The city of Oliver Springs just began annexation of an area where rental cabins and an ATV holding area will be built. There is also discussion of adding more access, in particular from Lake City, Tenn.
Paiute Trail
Richfield, Utah
Not only is it possible to ride an ATV from one end of the state to another on the trails system, it is also possible to jump on an ATV and drive down the street to the nearest restaurant.
“It is something that you just don’t find in other places, and it appeals to people throughout the United States,” said Kevin Arrington, tourism and events director of Sevier County.
On-street access is one of many amenities enjoyed by the more than 70,000 people who ride the Paiute ATV Trail over the course of a summer. The kingpin of the Utah trail system, a 238-mile loop with 550 miles of side trails linking to 16 communities, adds millions to the area communities.
Just how much, depends on how the figures are calculated. Arrington estimates about $10 million to $15 million a year.
Many come for one or both of the two nationally known jamborees held in the area.
The Rocky Mountain Jamboree, held in September, is a volunteer event held in Richmond and facilitated by Sevier County. The week-long event has drawn such a crowd that trail riders have been capped at 650, but the impact on the community is considered much larger given the number of people who don’t register but still come to be part of the festivities.
“If you take just the 650 and consider what they spent on gas, hotels and other expenses, it is close to $1 million for the week,” Arrington said.
The National Jamboree, held in June in Fillmore, Utah, is another big event bringing in 500 riders.
The U.S. Forest Service has been monitoring the Paiute Trail since 1995. In 2004, 72,000 people rode the trail. Figures for 2005 aren’t yet available but will probably be close to those of the year before.
“It will probably be about the same or slightly less,” said Max Reid, public service staff officer in the Fishlake National Forest, citing the price of gas as one factor in the leveling off of ridership.
In addition, “We had very heavy snow so most of the trail wasn’t open until late June and some weren’t open until August,” he said.
Normally, most of the trail system is open by early June with the highest passes open by July 10. Reid estimates that a third of those who ride the Paiute are local, a third come from other parts of Utah and a third come from out-of-state.
Dunes National Recreation Area
Reedsport, Oregon
One of the most popular riding areas in the country, the Dunes National Recreation Area drew more than 350,000 ATV users each year. It’s no wonder that all of the beds in the region are full.
“It used to be that everything was full on Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day, but now it is like that all of the time,” said John Griffith, a Coos County commissioner in Reedsport.
Griffith has been one of the leading advocates for Riley Ranch, a 134-acre ranch purchased by the county in 2002 that is being converted into an ATV park. While there are no projected revenue figures as yet, the county hopes that the new park will garner enough revenue to spread around.
“Currently, the county has about a dozen parks, some of them rather grand and some pretty primitive. Only one breaks even so it is our hope that Riley Ranch will financially support the whole county park system,”? Griffith said. “And I think it will. Everybody is maxed out. There is probably a point where enough capacity could be built for the demand, but I don’t know what that point is,”
As yet, Riley Ranch has been an expense rather than an asset. The initial purchase price of $824,000 came from the Oregon ATV Account Allocation Committee (ATVAAC) via a combination of registration and fuel tax funds. Since then, several thousands had to be spent to construct a left-turn lane off of Highway 101 to satisfy the state Department of Transportation. The county also has been negotiating with the Forest Service for a designated motorized route that would allow ATVs to travel from the ranch to the Dunes. In the meantime, it is cutting trails on the property and building camp sites.
Demand from ATV users is prompting other development in the area as well. For example, a North Bend area property that houses Myrtlewood Gallery, a factory and gift store, will be converted into a RV park with a powersports store that will cater to ATV riders. While the myrtlewood factory will remain, most of the showroom will be given over to the powersports store.
“Everybody is going to ATVs,” said Darrin Tharp, manager of the North Bend property. psb

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