County proposes charging no fees for forest trail events

Ben Popp, executive director for the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, speaks to the Sawyer County Land, Water and Forest Resources Committee about trail use fees, trail maintenance and the economic benefits of the Birkie Trai l to the area.

Sawyer County's Land, Water and Forest Resources Committee on Jan. 8 approved a resolution not to charge user fees for the events using county forest trails (such as the American Birkebeiner, Chequamegon Mountain Bike Festival, Hayward Lions Pre-Birkie and ATV and snowmobile poker runs).

The committee reviewed reports showing that 75% to 90% of silent sports users of the county forest trails are non-local. In total, there were 14,843 silent sports event participants on the forest trails last year. Most of those nonlocal participants (9,000) are Birkebeiner skiers.

A 2014 UW-Extension study estimated that each silent sports participant spends an average of $260 per year in the area, or a total of $3,859,050 per year, including $2,728,050 spent by Birkebeiner participants.

Ben Popp, executive director for the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF), said the Birkie's economic impact also includes $2,550,000 spent by skiers each year in communities within a 50-mile radius of Hayward.

The Birkie Foundation also spends $395,000 per year on

maintaining the Birkie Trail. Of this, $112,000 is derived from trail pass user fees.

"Our operating budget this year is about $3.5 million and 90 percent of that comes from over 50 miles away," Popp said. "Ninety percent of that is spent in this local community."

Popp said almost 1,200 people used the new Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at the Highway 00 trailhead in just one day from Dec. 25-29. "The volume of use has been just awesome," he said. "A lot of those people are from the local area."

The ABSF made donations totaling $80,500 to community groups in 2019, including $45,000 to the Hayward School District, $15,000 to organizations that volunteer and $15,500 to the North End Ski Club, CAMBA and others, Popp said.

Also the Birkie paid $26,400 to Sawyer County for services (sheriff's department, search and rescue, highway department and ambulance service), Popp added. Moreover, the Birkie Trail has spawned five real estate developments in the Hayward-Seeley area for residents and second home owners, Popp said.

The resolution passed by the committee says other organized events also generate "a significant positive economic impact for the county" each year, including $240,000 in state motorized trail money spent on maintenance.

The figures do not include CAMBA mountain bike events (a study is being performed) or the amount spent in the local area by out of town ATV and snowmobile riders.

By contrast, other communities actually pay organizers to attract events to their locality, such as Visit Cook County for the Lutsen 49er mountain bike race ($20,000) and Visit Milwaukee for their triathlon ($40,000), Popp indicated.

"We (the county) pay nothing for the Birkie," said committee chairman Bruce Paulsen.

The resolution states that other than staff costs associated with ATV and snowmobile trails (estimated at $40,000), Sawyer County's costs to maintain and motorized and non-motorized tails "is negligible."

The silent sports community has agreed to contribute $20,000 in 2020 for the improvement of parks and trails in the Sawyer County Forest. The committee is

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