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Survey: There's value along the trail
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MONROE - Crossing three counties in southern Wisconsin, The Cheese Country Trail can busy a busy place - full of off-road riders and ATV enthusiasts in the warmer months, and snowmobilers in the winter.

And the economic impacts of the trail, and the visitors it attracts, though obvious to many, haven't been well documented.

Local UW Extension offices and trail enthusiasts are working to change that by conducting a survey based on detailed interviews with users of the trail.

"We are trying to understand the type of people who use these rails and the economic impact of the trail," said Cara Carper, natural resources and economic development educator for Green County's UW Extension.

The trail's viability - and the survey - are dependent on volunteers, including members of area ATV and snowmobile clubs, who help maintain the trails year round.

"They have a vested interest in the trail," Carper said. "I know there has been discussion over the years for a need for a survey."

The extension offices and interested groups have been working closely together to conduct the 12-month survey of the trail since November 2010. It has been designed and implemented to randomly assess use pressure, trail conditions and user characteristics to develop an overall evaluation of the local economic impacts of this important recreational asset.

Information is being collected using 1,000 randomly selected 2-hour time slots during the 12-month survey period. Eight intercept locations have been chosen along the trail - in Monroe, Browntown, South Wayne, Gratiot, Darlington, Calamine, Belmont and Mineral Point.

The Tri-County Trails Committee plans to use the results of the study to improve trail experiences for future users. The committee will also provide the resulting information to local communities, businesses and counties to help create economic development related to the trail and its users.

"May and June was marked by fairly typical spring and early summer weather which resulted in relatively heavy use of the Cheese Country Trail, from Monroe to Belmont and Mineral Point," UW Extension Recreation Planning Specialist Dave Marcouiller said in a release. "While trail conditions vary along its 50-or-so mile route, users report generally good to excellent trail beds and superb South Central Wisconsin scenery."

Early Study highlights

- Observers noted steady trail use with an average trail pressure of almost 12 users per hour.

- Weekends and holidays saw higher trail use pressure. During peak usage, maximum trail usage rose to over 80 users per hour.

- The vast majority (about 95 percent) of users were riding motorized vehicles, primarily ATVs and UTVs. A smaller number used dirt bikes, dune buggies, golf carts and lawnmowers on the trail.

- On average, about one user out of every 20 on the Cheese Country Trail (5 percent) was not riding a motorized vehicle.

- The average age of trail users during May and June was just over 44 years. Roughly 80 percent of users were males. Trail user expenditures represent important receipts for local retail and service businesses.

- On average, trail users spent over $180 per visit to the trail; mostly on food/drink ($58) and fuel/repair for their car and trail vehicle ($56). A smaller amount was spent shopping for gifts and convenience items.

- Most of the trail users were local day-users.

- Almost 30 percent of trail users spent at least one overnight in the area, away from their primary residence. Of these overnight guests, most either stayed in a local motel/hotel or camped (roughly equal numbers in both).

- On average, overnight guests stayed three nights in the area and spent an average of $104 on accommodations. Overnight guests spent more than locals per visit to the Cheese Country Trail.

- On average, these users spent 2.4 times the average amount spent by all users ($433 versus $180).

- The spending by non-local visitors to the area represents new local dollars that result from the Cheese Country Trail and serve as an important local export.

For more information, contact Cara Carper at the Green County UW Extension Office at (608) 328-9440 or via email at, and visit