Increased usage generating more revenue, taxes
By Don Nelson
The Methow Valley’s recreational trail system has a profound and steadily growing impact on the local economy, according to a new study conducted for Methow Trails.
James DeSalvo, Methow Trails executive director, unveiled some key findings from the recently completed study at last week’s Winthrop Chamber of Commerce membership meeting.
DeSalvo said the study updates two previous surveys, from 1998 and 2005, that used similar methodologies so meaningful comparisons can be made. The new survey was conducted in late 2014.
The study considered trail user expenditures, indirect impacts such as higher real estate values, employment, and tax revenues generated by valley visitors. More than 600 people, including local and non-local trail users, area business owners and Methow Valley residents, were surveyed to generate the study’s results.
The study was conducted by Resource Dimensions, an economic-analysis consulting firm headquartered in Gig Harbor, which also conducted the 2005 survey. The Winthrop Chamber of Commerce contributed 5 percent toward the cost of the survey, the Community Foundation of North Central Washington provided 25 percent, and Methow Trails funded the rest.
Some key findings of the study, as outlined in an executive summary and explained in more detail during DeSalvo’s presentation, include:
• Trail users — local and non-local — currently generate about $6.7 million annually in direct expenditures, and another $5.7 million in indirect expenditures, a total of $12.4 million. The 2005 figure was $8.6 million; the total is projected to increase to $22.5 million by 2030.
• Winter “skier days” as measured by Methow Trails have been increasing an average of 12 percent a year for the past 10 years.
• Trail users spend an average of $1,793 per trip, compared to $1,469 in 2005. That spending is heavily concentrated in the service sector — lodging (23.8 percent), restaurants and grocery purchases (38.4 percent), and purchase or rental of recreation-related clothing and equipment (12.9 percent).
• Business respondents said they had seen a significant increase in the number of visitors who come here to use the trails network.
• The trails network influences property purchasing decisions — nearly 90 percent of the respondents said they had considered buying property in the Methow Valley. People buying homes and real estate in the valley are willing to pay an average of 9 percent more per acre for properties near the trails.
• The Methow Valley provides 19.2 percent of Okanogan County’s employment, with 16.3 percent of the county’s total population. The Methow provides nearly 40 percent of the county’s employment in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodations and food services sectors. Employees in service industries in the Methow Valley represent nearly 22 percent of the county’s civilian work force.
• Methow Trails, through its trail system and related recreational programs, supports an estimated 184 full- and part-time jobs, or 157 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. Those employees are paid about $5.7 million in annual wages and salaries. Purchases made by those employees support an estimated 26 additional local jobs. FTE jobs are projected to increase to 260 by 2030.
• Businesses providing services to Methow Trails and the region’s other recreation, services and tourism-related sectors generate about $22 million in annual revenues.
• From 2012 to 2014, Methow Valley visitors spent an estimated $40.7 million in direct travel spending, about $18.6 million of which can be attributed to trail usage and other recreational visits. Those expenditures generate an annual average of $696,000 in local, state and hotel/motel taxes.
• Twisp and Winthrop generate about 24 percent of the county’s regular state-shared lodging tax, and 31 percent of the county’s additional special lodging taxes. Combined for the 2012-14 period, the Methow Valley’s lodging tax contributions represent an average of 71.6 percent of those taxes collected by Okanogan County.
• The median length of non-local trail user stays in the Methow is about six days, compared to about four days in 2005.
• Respondents said the top three reasons influencing their decisions to move to or visit the Methow Valley are, in order, proximity of natural resources, natural beauty and rural character.
DeSalvo said details of the study will be posted at www.methowtrails.org later this week.
At the same meeting last week, Kristen Smith, the chamber’s marketing director, reported that hotel/motel tax revenues for Winthrop continue to set records. In May, the town collected 29 percent more in taxes than the previous best figure for that month. Year-to-year, she said, Winthrop is 22 percent up over last year, which was the best year to date. The Methow Valley at large, including other rental accommodations, is 16 percent above its best year ever, Smith said.
Smith said television advertising in the Seattle market has been particularly effective.