Mountain bike trails are more than just a hangout for adrenalin junkies, as a group of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management students learned this year, they can also have measurably positive economic and social impacts. In partnership with the Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association, the students undertook a comprehensive study of the social and economic impacts of the Boer Mountain trails near the northern community.
Mountain bike trails are more than just a hangout for adrenalin junkies, as a group of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management students learned this year, they can also have measurably positive economic and social impacts.
In partnership with the Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association (BLMBA), the students undertook a comprehensive study of the social and economic impacts of the Boer Mountain trails near the northern community.
The study was done as part of a third-year research methods class and Associate Professor Dr. Pamela Wright says having BLMBA as a case study made the course more interactive and added another layer to the educational experience.
“In addition to learning about research, the students also learned how a group of passionate community members and volunteers could be a force for positive change through the power of community-based tourism,” she says.
The students conducted in-person interviews and administered a survey as part of the course. They also provided BLMBA with a report chronicling the benefits of the trails to the local economy and to the community.
“We rely heavily on funding organizations in order to build and maintain our worldclass network of trails, and having a credible study and report that captures the benefits to our community as a whole is a critical piece for us,” says BLMBA president Guy Epkens-Shaffer.
“The quantitative information that this study provides will guide our association as we further develop recreation trails.”
Wright received funding through the Undergraduate Experiential Service Learning program to help pay for some of the costs associated with taking the class to Burns Lake to conduct interviews and tour the trails.
“The funding for the trip allowed us to do the interviews, which we could not have done otherwise,” she says. “It was critical for the students to see the facility, meet community members and walk the streets of Burns Lake.”
Because the visit was in the winter semester the students did not have the chance to ride the trails on mountain bikes, but they did visit Boer Mountain and snowshoed part of the network and explored other sections on fat bikes suitable for winter riding conditions.
During their community visit, the students conducted nearly 50 interviews with Burns Lake residents about the impact the trail network had on their lives. Some of the interview subjects were volunteers who worked on the trails, others were trail users and others still were people who do not mountain bike themselves, but still see a value in creating recreational opportunities.
The UNBC students also consulted with children and youth, many of whom drew pictures to show what the trail network meant to them.
“The community members were amazing,” Wright says. “They were invested in helping the students learn.”
Once the students completed collecting all the data, they broke up into groups to analyze it and begin to prepare the report for the BLMBA executive. Wright presented the association with the final copy in May.
Although the course wrapped up at the end of the semester, the project is still on going. Some students are volunteering to administer a second survey this summer to trail users and another student will crunch those numbers and provide further analysis to BLMBA as part of an independent study during the fall 2017 semester.
“The students know the stakes of the project,” Wright said. “The ability of BLMBA to get funding in the future rests on the students being able to document the benefits.”