Tourism study profiles ATV users

Within the next 10 years, the number of registered all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders in Minnesota is expected to soar by more than 250 percent. Though their ranks are swelling, there is still relatively little known about who rides ATVs, where and...

Within the next 10 years, the number of registered all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders in Minnesota is expected to soar by more than 250 percent. Though their ranks are swelling, there is still relatively little known about who rides ATVs, where and why.

A recent study, conducted by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, tried to pinpoint who actually rides ATVs and what they contribute to the economy.

"Obviously, we need to understand what these folks are doing and why they're doing it, so we can better plan for them," said the study's author, U of M associate professor Ingrid Schneider. "There are significant indications - if this projection (about increasing riders) comes to fruition - for land management, planning, marketing and natural resources."

The study, gleaned from seven-page questionnaires mailed to a sample of registered ATV owners, determined ATV users pump roughly $642 million of retail sales into the state's economy.

The average household spent about $172 on direct expenditures, or $43 per person per day. The highest share of costs typically went toward groceries.


Only about 40 percent of the $260.3 million in total residential expenditures was spent at destination areas within the state, however. The rest was spent at home or en route to the destination. An additional $69 million was spent on non-travel expenses (insurance, storage, etc.).

"That's pretty much the way we see it," said Audrey Eischens, former secretary of the ATV Association of Minnesota (ATVAM) and founding member of the Forest Riders. "Obviously, there's travel money being spent, and the initial cost (of the ATV) with all the doo-dads that come with it, the trailer and if they're camping, they take their camping gear. And, of course, when they get to the destination, they have to fuel up machines and fuel up their bodies. They need someplace to spend the night. It all ties together."

Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce director Katie Magozzi believes responsible ATV use can enrich the community's economy.

"We have one of the few areas around that has quality ATV trails," she said. "The key to this is responsible ATV use, good oversight and agreeing that we want to yield to that market."

She noted increased ATV use could lengthen Hubbard County's tourist season, as ATVs can be ridden year-round.

Eischens agrees ATV riding has boomed lately, especially in the Park Rapids area.

"I've noticed a huge difference in the number of riders and people out on ATVs," she said. "In the summertime up here, the area around the Two Inlets Store is packed with the trailers of people riding on our trails."

According to the survey, the typical Minnesota ATV rider is a white, non-Hispanic male in his mid-40s with some college or technical training. He is most often employed full time with an income greater than $50,000 and a family size of 2.8.


Eischens said of the group she and her husband typically ride with, it's roughly half and half, male and female, but all white, and non-Hispanic. She says her group is comprised mainly of families.

She believes Hubbard County's recently approved ATV trail plan will be nothing but a good thing.

"That's a real positive thing, when the system is laid out and marked and enforced," she said. "I think it will be a real positive thing for the county and the area."

Magozzi agrees the trail system, if managed sensibly, can be a good thing for the area.

"I think it could yield some wonderful possibilities," she said. "The key is identifying your market and taking care of those people, so at the end of the day we have a good product.

"Environmental stewardship is high on the list of things we'll embrace, because these resources are fragile and God's not making any more of them," she added.

Eischens also hopes riders will obey trail rules.

"I'm very glad Hubbard County has seen fit to get more enforcement out there," she said. "I'm one of those people - maybe I'm old-fashioned - but I'm a firm believer in laws and regulations that everyone needs to follow, not just a few people. If they're finding people that are breaking the law, I hope they sock it to them."


Gas tax clash

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released its own report on rider demographics, titled, "Study of Annual Recreational Fuel Consumption by All-Terrain Vehicles Final Report."

The study was prepared in February (at the request of the Minnesota Legislature in 2005) to determine the amount of gasoline consumed by recreational ATV riders per year and to determine where they ride.

The last such study, conducted in 1984, surmised ATV riders consumed .15 percent of taxable gasoline sold in the state. The recent figures suggest Minnesota's 236,683 riders averaged 30 gallons of gasoline per year for recreational purposes, or .27 percent of all taxable gasoline.

Gene Larimore, a retired research analyst from St. Paul and member of the JackPine Coalition, did his own analysis of the DNR's study.

He found approximately 72 percent of respondents said they ride ATVs on private lands and trails, 15 percent ride on public road ditches and 15 percent ride on public land and trails.

"I wasn't shocked (at the results)," he said, noting a DNR study in 2001 found well over half of ATV owners never rode on public land. "It's a surprise to the extent that the ATV club community has been telling us for years there are 280,000 riders out there that demand trails. They don't. They're perfectly happy putzing around wherever they go."

With Larimore's results in hand, State Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) introduced a bill in late March to cut the state's gas tax ATV allocation, from around $800,000 annually to $260,000. Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended increasing ATV trail allocation to as much as $1.4 million per year.


"The department's study was really impressive," Marty said, referring to the DNR survey. "They had two goals - find out how much recreational riding there was and where it was ridden. They calculated the one that would lead them to get more funding from the state and they failed to do the one that would cut their funding."

Marty's bill was swiftly defeated in committee last month.

"Some people ride on public land and they want the trails," Marty said. "Frankly, all of them have to drive to where they're going on roads, and most people think we should take care of our roads, which are in pretty sad shape right now. And $1.4 million is a lot of potholes you can fill."

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