The Economic Value of Trails in Arizona

Outdoor recreation supports the quality of life and health of individuals, communities, and local economies. The economic value that individuals place on amenities like trails can be measured in terms of consumer surplus. Consumer surplus is a monetary measure of how well-off individuals are as a result of consuming or using a particular good, service, or resource. In the case of trails, it measures the value of trails based on the benefits that individuals derive from using them. For goods that are not bought and sold in markets, such as natural amenities, the value of a particular resource can be estimated indirectly using what is known as the travel cost method. In this method, benefits of an amenity are based on how much individuals spend in time and money to travel to enjoy a particular amenity. Estimating the economic value associated with use of natural resources and amenities is important in understanding how society is impacted by changes in the quality of or access to those resources. It can help to guide public policy and investments by informing our understanding of the benefits and costs of different actions affecting natural resources and amenities valued by the public.

As a complement to the Arizona State Parks 2020 Trails Plan, this study estimates Arizonans’ demand for trail use and the economic value of motorized and non-motorized trail use to Arizona residents using the travel cost method. Trail use includes use of trails managed by Arizona State Parks, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other land management agencies for both non-motorized and motorized uses. Non-motorized uses include walking, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding/equestrian use, among others, and motorized uses include dirt biking, ATV use, UTV use, side-by-side use, and four wheeling, among others. Additionally, the study includes development of an origin-destination matrix estimating Arizonans’ travel for trail-based recreation. This can offer important insight for communities looking to develop or expand their own trail systems, or to inform tourism marketing for communities hoping to attract visitors.


Dari Duval, George Frisvold, Ashley Bickel

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Travel cost; economic value; consumer surplus; outdoor recreation