A study of use on hiking and biking trails in the Wood River Valley last year quantified what many people already knew in general terms—that a lot of people use the trails, that the bike path is the most popular trail in the valley, and that most out-of-state visitors are from California, among other things.
But study organizers say putting that general knowledge into numbers will help land managers to make better decisions, local officials to write more effective grant applications and planners to better analyze the local economy.
The study was carried out by the Blaine County Recreation District and Sustain Blaine, with financial and volunteer help from other local partners.
There were about 725,000 trail “user days” recorded on the trails studied, which included both the bike path and single-track trails from south of Hailey to Galena Lodge, during the seven-month period studied from April to November. By comparison, winter use of Bald and Dollar mountains is about 400,000 “skier days.”
“I’m struck mostly by the sheer scale of use of the trails by both locals and visitors,” Blaine County Recreation District Executive Director Jim Keating said.
The study identified local users at 46 precent, visitors at 28 percent, with the remaining 25 percent an unidentified mix of locals and visitors.
By far the most popular trail was the Wood River Trail bike path, which accounted for about half of all trail use in the valley. The most popular part of the bike path was the section from the Elkhorn Road junction north to River Run, followed by south Hailey and Sun Valley Road.
Keating said the Recreation District used the study’s results in its application for a federal Community Choices grant, administered by the Idaho Transportation Department, to fund signs for the bike path.
“To be able to articulate exactly how many people are using it is very effective in making our case,” he said.
On the bike path, 79 percent of use was biking and 13 percent walking and running. On single-track trails, it was 58 percent hiking/running and 30 percent biking. There was 10 times the use on the southern and central parts of the trail system as there was on the northern part, which is north of the Sawtooth National Recreation Headquarters. That area accounted for only about 27,000 user days.
The most popular backcountry-type trail was Adams Gulch, with about 24,000 users. The Lake Creek trailhead saw a little more than 13,000 user days and the Greenhorn Gulch trailhead just under that amount. The Fox Creek trailhead had about 11,700 user days.
Around Hailey, Carbonate Mountain was the most popular, with about 24,000 user days. In second place was Quigley Road, with about 17,000 user days. The Community Campus entry to the Toe of the Hill Trail, Draper Preserve and Democrat Gulch were about tied for third place.
The Harriman Trail saw about 8,000 user days, with the section just north of the SNRA being the most popular.
Within the SNRA/U.S. Forest Service lands, the Baker Creek and Prairie Creek trails had the most use, with about 2,800 user days each.
Of visitors using the trails, divided into age by decade, most—29 percent—were in their 50s, followed by those in their 40s at 23 percent. Only 6 percent were under 25, and 9 percent were over 70.
About equal numbers of males and females used the trails. Trails with more use by males were Croy Canyon at 60 percent, the Wood River Trail at 57 percent and Greenhorn at 53 percent. The Croy Canyon and Greenhorn trails have been popular mountain biking and motorcycle trails.
Trails popular with females are those at Draper Preserve at 64 percent, the Proctor/Corral Creek trails at 61 percent and the Galena trails at 60 percent.
Of locals queried, 35 percent said they took their dogs with them on trails. That number rises to 38 percent on backcountry trails. The trails with the highest percentage of dog walkers were the Draper Preserve trails and the Galena trails.
The single-track trails with the highest percentage of mountain-biking use were the Greenhorn trails at 47 percent and the Adams Gulch trails at 40 percent.
The study revealed that 84 percent of visiting trail users stayed in a hotel room, condominium or rented house. Only 7 percent camped and 9 percent stayed with friends. Thirty-eight percent stayed between four and seven days, 23 percent stayed between eight and 14 days, and 23 percent stayed more than 14 days. Ninety-seven percent said they would return.
The average amount of money reported spent by visiting trail users was $1,751. Sixty-two percent said they spent less than $1,000 in the area, 24 percent between $1,000 and $3,000, 8 percent between $3,000 and $5,000, 6 percent between $5,000 and $10,000, and 1 percent more than $10,000.
By state, California supplied the most visitors at 25 percent, followed by Idaho at 19 percent, Washington at 14 percent, Utah at 8 percent, Oregon at 5 percent and Texas at 4 percent. Only 11 percent of visitors came from the East and only 4 percent from foreign countries.
Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith said he is working on Phase II of the trails study to analyze the economic impacts of various types of spring, summer and fall trail use.