MISSOULA – A study by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation research found more than 63,000 people visited Helena’s South Hills trails last summer, generating millions of dollars for the local economy.
The study found that while the majority of users are locals, one-fifth of the pedestrian traffic and more than a quarter of the bike traffic was from out of town visitors.
Researchers say those non-local visitors to the South Hills trails generated $4.3 million in total economic activity, supporting 60 jobs.
When it comes to local users, the study shows over half the residents surveyed say the trail system was very important to quality of life.
While the majority of users on foot and on bike are locals – 80% and 73% respectively – the trail system serves as a significant draw and activity for visitors from across the state, country and even the world.
“Throughout the summer, we surveyed and counted users as they entered the hills to find out where they are from, how much they spent and other attributes about their use of the trails,” said Jeremy Sage, ITRR associate director.
“Helena has an amazing, accessible trail system that is priceless to me and my businesses,” said Helena business owner and resident Shalon Hastings. “I happily live a block below a trailhead on Mount Ascension and use the trails daily as a wake-up and stress relief. It’s rewarding to see out-of-towners taking advantage of our trails and coming into both of my businesses, Hub Coffee and Taco del Sol.”
The main Mount Helena trailhead serves as the primary access point for day hikers, with nearly 25,000 entries over the summer.
For bikers, the Mount Helena Ridge and Arrowroot Drive trailheads are the prime entry points.
The volume of users accessing these trails is boosted by routine shuttle service from downtown via the Trail Rider.
“It’s wonderful to see the high values placed on our work in building the South Hills land estate and establishing and maintaining the trails system with the city over the years,” said Mary Hollow, Prickly Pear Land Trust executive director.