Economic, Environmental and Social Benefits of Recreational Trails in Washington State

This report evaluates the economic, environmental, and social benefits of outdoor recreation activities associated with trails and their nexus with the economy of Washington.

by Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, RCFB Grants Section Manager


Washington State is home to unparalleled natural resourcesranging from extensive coastlines, snow-peaked mountains,and arid river valleys. Through investments in well-maintainedtrail networks supported by the state, the federal government,tribes, local communities, non-profits, volunteers, andother organizations, these resources provide recreationalopportunities to millions of residents and visitors. In total,residents and visitors spend approximately 292 million days peryear on recreational trails to walk, run, hike, bike, or backpack.

Residents are avid trail users, spending an average of 38 to42 days per person per year participating in non-motorizedrecreational trail use. These activities create economic benefitson multiple dimensions. Trail users contribute over $8.2 billionto Washington’s economy and support over 81,000 jobs everyyear. Physical activity associated with trail use results in over$390 million of health savings per year. In addition to thesemarket values, the trails themselves and the ecological theyprovide are highly valued, providing Washingtonians withover $8.5 billion in recreational-use value and $5.9 billion inecosystem services each year.

This report evaluates the economic, environmental, andsocial benefits of outdoor recreation activities associatedwith trails and their nexus with the economy of Washington.We define these trail-based activities to include walking,running, hiking, biking, and backpacking on paved andunpaved trails in Washington — motorized and equestrianrecreational uses are not included in this analysis.This study is focused on three central questions:

  1. How are the trails used by residents and non-residents?

  2. What is the economic contribution of the spendingassociated with trail-based recreation?

  3. What are the health, social, and environmental benefitsderived from trail landscapes and their use?

Published January 01, 2019

About the Author


The Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) is a small state agency that manages grant programs to create outdoor recreation opportunities, protect the best of the state’s wildlife habitat and working farms and forests, and help return salmon from near extinction.

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