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What's A Trail Rider Really Worth?     By Bonnie Davis

 
 To advocate preserving, developing or expanding equine use on trails, horsemen have always cited rights, traditions and recreation. But with more users demanding a wider use pattern, we trail riding horseowners need to include other trail values so we can maintain a hoof-hold on trails.

Today the bureaucratic trail planning system includes the buzzwords "financial cost" and "economic impact". Trails today have become dollars and cents in budgets. And trail users must present "economic impact" figures on how much money a trail or trails generate if trail riders expect to hold their use on any trail!

But when an agency begins to talk about "financial costs" and "economic impacts", just what do they mean? And how are they figured?

"Financial costs" (FC) are the actual dollars and cents involved in putting and maintaining a trail on the ground. This will include costs of buying trail easements or land, surveying trail routes, planners to plan the actual trail route, surveyors to map the alignment, equipment to move rocks and dirt, environmental reports, public hearings, notices, fences, gates, bridges and administrative costs.

Horse trails used to be among the cheapest to develop and maintain. But because of the high demand for trails, there are fewer and fewer horse-only trails. Trails are now referred to as multiuse trails -- horse-hiker, horse-biker, horse-hiker-biker. And these new multiuse trails have become expensive to build and maintain because they require multiuse surfaces, minimum multiuse widths, multiuse liability insurance coverage.

To defend equine uses on trails in cities, counties, national forests, parks and wilderness areas, "economic impact" (EI) figures are needed. EI ("economic impact)figures offset FC ("financial costs"). They can prove to officials that equine trail users not only have a tradition, a right and a recreation benefit but a dollar impact to local, state and federal governments as well.

"Economic impact" is the dollars and cents generated because of a trail. These are monies spent by trail users for trail riding. Generated dollars. Money circulated that would not be there if the trail WAS NOT THERE. These are the figures we horseowners have to compile and present to agencies evaluating equine use on trails, planning new trails and for the viability of keeping a trail open.

How does a group find EI figures? How does a group or person go about 'dollar and centing' it? Who does one talk to? The answers are right in your own barn.....on your own trails.....among your own riding companions.....and with your own "economic impact".

Hikers and bikers go home, take off their hiking boots and toss 'em in the closet or park their bikes in garages after a trail ride. But a horse can't be put in a closet or parked in a garage. Horses are backyard, barn, stall, paddock, corral, pasture-boarded creatures that have to be fed, housed, shod and maintained. So the biggest EI to a trail system is the COST of maintaining, feeding, housing, shoeing the equestrian choice for trail use -- the horse!

For example, Ed Levin County Park above Milpitas in Santa Clara County has a 24 mile trail system plus a tie-in to East Bay Regional Parks District with about another 100 miles of trails and horsecamps. Suddenly the multiuse trails were fenced and horsemen who had ridden in the park for over 30 years were reduced to an 8 am opening and dusk locking of gates. But gates were often locked earlier and 'forgotten' to be opened at all during the day. So after a few months of complaints a meeting with over 100 horsemen, park staff, Santa Clara County Supervisors and County Park Director was held. And at this meeting some of the horsemen's "economic impact" on Ed Levin County Park and Santa Clara County were presented.

Nine stables around the park house over 1,200 horses used primarily for trail riding in the park. Board bills ranged from $150 to $300 per horse per month. As one stable owner stated, "My place has over 150 horses with about 125 of them ridden in the Park. I know because I asked all my boarders what they do with their horses and where they ride. Those 125 that rode in Levin are at my place because I'm next to the Park. Since most of them don't own trailers, they can't haul out. Close that Park to horses and I'm going to lose boarders. They going to move someplace else for trail riding. I can't have that kind of loss and stay in business. So remember the Park closures aren't only affecting the trail riders but me and my barn because if I lose horses, I won't be hiring stall cleaners, buying feed in Santa Clara County and paying taxes like I do now!".

Projecting my own EI statement, I board two horses in another barn on the edge of Levin SPECIFICALLY for the trails. I pay $460 a month. For 2000 alone, my EI to Santa Clara County via the stable owner was $5,520. Add the other 112 horses in this same barn to my figures and the total EI for this one barn was over $500,000 a year. Add the other eight barns around the park plus shoeing, vet and haul in fees for equestrian park users to this figure and a conservative EI for Levin Park was several MILLION dollars per year. Generated strictly because of TRAIL USE by horseowners!!!

In an 'unofficial' statement made by a Supervisor during the meeting and after the close of the horsemen's presentation, "I and I'm sure other Supervisors never realized either how much money you folks spend on your horses and trail riding. I never realized that much money came into Santa Clara because of horses. I've driven by stables. Seen horses. Seen your folks on trails but never thought of the benefits you bring to this economy.". And the official decision arrived in the mail about two weeks later addressed to each horseowner who had signed the attendance list: "After careful staff study, the gates at Ed Levin Park will be closed at dusk but NOT locked.".

Horsemen on a trail are visible aspects of trail uses but the "economic impacts" of these horsemen HAS to be realized. Boarding, shoes and vets are just the basic sources to start with when beginning "economic impacts". Other sources to investigate and figure are:

Trailers purchased in a county or a specific area. These trailers will at one time or another be used for trail riding.
Horse trailer license fees. A portion of that license fee goes to the county and city plus state. For a break down, contact the DMV.
Towing vehicles. Taxes and license fees just as with trailer sales go to specific counties. And everyone knows, to pull that trailer -- one has to have a towing vehicle!
Fuel for not only towing vehicles but fuel costs to go back and forth to the stable for maintaining the horse's health so he can be USED for trail riding.
'Other' equine trail users. Rental and pack strings. They pay a business license, percentage fee to the trail agency, insurance premiums, hire help and so on. Close the trail to their uses and that 'other' use is gone along with their EI.
Tourist trade? Sure! If a dude ranch is in the area and they advertise people are going to fly in, rent cars, motels, etc. before, during and after their dude ranch, pack trip or 'working ranch' vacation.
 
Volunteer hours spent attending meetings, developing, maintaining, walking, building trails, bridges, cutting trees, moving rocks, etc. are EI too. Costs for rental equipment, stock used to haul equipment and even lunches bought for agency personnel are all EI. Remember, VOLUNTEER hours on trail work -- they should ALWAYS be calculated and documented. Why? Volunteer "economic impacts" are generated dollars to keep and maintain trails with NO "financial cost" to an agency. So after every volunteer project -- be sure to figure out the hours, labor, cost and make doubly sure the agency has it DOCUMENTED and that trail work that was just completed with volunteers does not get figured into their "financial cost" budget!!! (In other words, read the budgets to double check no costs on a specific trail slipped through as FC when in reality volunteers did the work and it costed the agency nothing.)
Health. Insurance companies and the federal government want to get people off their sofas and outdoors. Horsemen are trying to stay healthy and outdoors by trail riding.
Property values. Various real estate studies have proven homes near a trail system are more valuable and have no more break-in problems than those located away from trails. Property values in communities that allow horse boarding and have trail systems are higher than in communities that don't. Norco, California is a good example of that!
 
Environmental issues. Horseowners are aware of the environmental issues facing their trail uses and have been the first to finance studies to produce scientific data. Studies that government agencies and trail agencies DO NOT have to fund.
Miscellaneous EI. Clothing. Boots. Hats. Meals at restaurants. Groceries bought when hauling to a trail for a picnic. ANYTHING spent for trail riding is part of an "economic impact".

Equestrian trail users who want to maintain their particular trail uses or expand their trail systems must look beyond the tradition, the right and the recreation aspects of trails. It's a hard, cold fact but in the future, only trail users with the best "economic impact" statistics to offset "financial costs" are the ones who will hold onto critical trail space.

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Bonnie Davis is a Bay Area resident, free lance writer and horsecamping/trail riding advocate with over 30 years experience. Her stories, articles, and columns have been published in national and international publications such as Western Horseman, Paint Horse Journal, Horse & Horseman, Quarter Horse Journal, Western Side (Italy), Cascade Horseman, California Horse Review, Performance Horse Review, and San Jose Mercury News.  Bonnie has been a featured speaker at the '99-'01 Horsexpo in Sacramento.