Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Report: Biking brings millions to valley

Direct impacts at $6 million, study says


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A preliminary report by economic development group Sustain Blaine shows that biking of all kinds brings at least $6 million to the county's economy annually.

Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith said the economic impact of biking in the valley could be much more, but these studies only focused on direct impacts—such as bike-specific retail sales or entry fees for biking events and activities.

Griffith said the study was not limited to Sun Valley's most popular form of biking, mountain biking.

"It's biking in general," he said, including road and what is called "comfort biking." "It's anything with two wheels."

The data was collected by members of Sustain Blaine who spoke with bike event organizers such as Greg Randolph of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, bike retailers and residents such as Rebecca Rusch, who holds instructional mountain biking camps in the area through the summer. Griffith said he also received data from Sun Valley Co. regarding how many people bought lift tickets to go mountain biking on Baldy last summer.

"We gathered up all of the direct components and pulled all of that together to come up with the direct contribution," Griffith said.

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Roughly 85 percent of the $6 million comes from bike-specific retail and employees in the biking sector, while 15 percent is attributed to revenues from biking events and activities—including the U.S. Mountain Bike National Championships that have been held in Sun Valley for the past two years.

Griffith said that while there's no doubt that that event brought money to the valley, its direct impacts were likely lower than one might expect.

"It would include someone's entry fee, it would include any purchases they made while they were here in the biking sector, which is probably not much because they bring their own gear," he said. "But if they were here seven days and camped out and bought lunch at [Johnny G's] Subshack or beers at the Casino, it wouldn't include that."

Those incidental purchases—the impact of all of those bikers eating, sleeping, traveling and otherwise recreating in the valley—are part of the next phase of Sustain Blaine's study. Griffith said biking's main impact to the valley is likely indirect, attributable to these other factors.

Griffith said the group is currently trying to discover what major factors bring people into the Wood River Valley—whether it be hiking, biking, skiing or events like the Sun Valley Summer Symphony—and, once they're here, what they do and where they spend money.

"Why does somebody come here?" he asked. "If the first thing out of their mouth is biking, then that's it. If the first thing is the symphony, we recognize that they probably also went biking and hiking and horseback riding. There's some overlap."

Sustain Blaine is still counting trail users throughout the summer and Griffith said volunteers will be conducting surveys to determine how many users are visitors and how many came specifically for the trails system. The study will continue through early September.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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