Study shows that hikers, mountain bikers use Steamboat trails in near equal numbers
Editor’s note: This story is the first of a two-part series about trail use and the economic value of trails in the community based on a recently completed study. Check SteamboatPilot.com tomorrow for the second part, addressing the economic impact of trails in the Steamboat area.
This story was corrected at 1:50 p.m. Monday. 25% of trail users bring a dog.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — You’re just as likely to run into a hiker as a mountain biker on Steamboat Springs area trails, but no matter who you meet on the trail, there’s a 25% chance they’ll have a dog with them.
RPI Consulting recently completed a study based on a survey of 730 trail users at seven trailheads on Emerald Mountain, Buffalo Pass and Spring Creek, which was presented to the Steamboat Springs City Council Tuesday and the 2A Trails Committee on Wednesday. The study was compiled into an in-depth analysis of how people use trails in the Steamboat area and how trails impact the local economy.
Survey results show that use on area trails is nearly split evenly between foot traffic — trail running or hiking — and mountain biking.
Data gathered from these surveys reveals that most trail users (66%) live in Steamboat year-round, followed by visitors (24%) and part-time residents (10%). Most locals (82%) hit a trail daily or multiple times a week, while 14% use a trail weekly and only 3% use a trail once or twice a month.
While locals are most likely to choose a trail because of its convenient location, scenery or because it’s the right distance for them, visitors and part-time residents prioritize scenery, the level of difficulty and exertion it takes to complete the trail.
Trends among local users
There are slightly more mountain bikers among local users, with 36% of full-time residents using the trails on two wheels, 34% hiking, running and mountain biking on them and 24% mostly hiking.
Part-time residents and visitors tend to spend more time on the trails than most locals. While most full-time residents head out for an hour or two, part-time residents were more likely to hit the trail for two to three hours. Visitors fell into both categories, with about a third of visitors saying they spent one to two hours and another third saying they spent two to three hours on the trail.
“Local trail users tend to do shorter outings on the trails,” Gabe Preston, principal of RPI Consulting said. “It’s part of their busy, day-to-day lives. The visitors tend to go longer and that’s true both in terms of mileage and in terms of time out on the trail. Visitors and part-time residents tend to be going longer distances, going for a bigger ride.”
Most full-time residents — 54% — had no concerns about other trail users. Those that did have concerns ranked bikes going too fast, off-leash dogs and dog and horse waste on the trails among their greatest concerns.
“Over half of people had no concerns, which is kind of amazing, actually for outdoor recreation and trail use,” Preston said.
Emerald Mountain saw the most use by full-time residents; while part-time residents and visitors were most likely use trails on Buffalo Pass.
Which trails are used the most?
The consultants used trail counters placed on trails in each of the three areas to track how many people used the trails. According to this data, the front side of Emerald Mountain and Spring Creek are the busiest trail systems, though Preston pointed out that the trail system on Buffalo Pass is relatively new. On both Emerald and Buffalo Pass, most users took advantage of loops, connecting trail to trail into longer distances.
On Emerald Mountain, 76% of hikers and runners used the road — Blackmer Drive — while fewer than 15% of mountain bikers used the road, most opting to spend their time on single-track.
They also found that more users hit the easier lower section of the Flash of Gold Trail on Buffalo Pass. Use tapered off on the moderate middle section of the trail and the harder upper segment of Flash of Gold.
To read the study, “City of Steamboat Springs Trail Use and Economic Impact Study, visit steamboatsprings.net/trails.
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