Recreation and tourism are increasingly promoted as a means of diversifying economies in the Northern Forest, yet few studies have quantified how visitors' recreational activities affect local businesses. This research examines the economic impact of paddler recreation along the waterways of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), a 740-mile route traversing New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail association has been working with communities to develop campsites, signage, and portage trails, as well as to promote the trail in the media. This project helps communities better understand the potential economic impacts of these endeavors.
The objectives of this research were to assess the group and trip
characteristics of paddlers recreating on Northern Forest Canoe Trail
waterways, to quantify the economic impact of paddlers in regional
communities, to identify potential social and environmental impacts, and to
highlight current success stories and challenges for businesses and
communities along the NFCT.
Use levels were monitored in six regions utilizing registration kiosks at public boat launches and staff assistance at campgrounds, checkpoints, and lodging establishments. Visitor demographics, trip characteristics, and expenditure data were collected at registration kiosks and through in-person and mail surveys. 1024 paddler surveys were completed. MGM2, an input-output model developed by the National Park Service, was used to model direct and indirect impacts. The spatial extent of impacts was mapped using ArcGIS software. Discussions with regional land managers and business owners helped identify potential social and environmental concerns, success stories, and challenges for communities seeking to attract new paddlers to the area.
Results indicate that approximately 90,000 visitors paddled the waterways in the six study regions. Their spending in local communities created $12 million in total economic impacts, supporting about 280 jobs. The median paddler group spent about $215 per trip, primarily at lodging establishments, restaurants, grocery stores, and service stations. Non-locals spent an average of $414-498 per trip, or $46 per person per day. However, use levels, types of users, average expenditures, and resulting economic impacts vary significantly between regions. The analysis suggests trip lengths, lodging types, group size, travel distances, and use of outfitters drive economic impacts. Communities with developed tourism infrastructure situated close to well-traveled waterways appear most successful at capturing visitor dollars. Land managers are generally supportive of paddler recreation where proactive management and paddler educational efforts are in place.
The results of this study suggest that paddler recreation and tourism can positively impact local economies. Expenditures by new visitors attracted by the NFCT may help stabilize and diversify the local economy, supporting a greater mix of businesses in rural communities. Local communities have an important role to play in guiding the development of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Economic benefits can be increased by expanding camping and lodging opportunities on both public and private lands, constructing rustic shelters to attract additional users, developing and supporting guide training and promotion initiatives, holding organized events such as canoe races and festivals, and participating in collaborative marketing efforts. At the same time, local communities and the NFCT must work together to proactively plan and implement strategies to minimize the negative social and environmental impacts of increased visitation, which may include the spread of invasive aquatic species, wildlife disturbance, increased traffic, overcrowding of waterways, and land degradation at campsites.