The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, with 50 miles winding through Langlade County, attracts an estimated 1.2 million visitors every year and trail users contribute approximately $113 million annually to Wisconsin’s economy, according to surveys conducted last year of trail users and businesses along the trail.
The Ice Age Trail, one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States, is a thousand-mile footpath highlighting Wisconsin's glacial geology and scenic beauty.
Langlade County boasts 50 miles of the trail, divided into five segments: 13-mile Kettlebowl, 12-mile Lumbercamp, 9.5 mile Old Railroad, 12.3-mile Highland Lakes and 12-mile Parrish Hills.
“This study highlights the importance of outdoor recreation to Wisconsin’s economy and the value of protecting and managing our natural resources,” Brigit Brown, state trails coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources said.
The Ice Age Trail is administered through a partnership involving the National Park Service, the DNR and the Ice Age Trail Alliance, a statewide nonprofit group that first advanced the concept of the Ice Age Trail in the 1950s.
According to Brown, the trail has been developed through a mosaic of partners, including private donors, landowners, businesses, nonprofit organizations and city, county, state and other municipal governments.
The trail itself is built and maintained largely by volunteers coordinated by the alliance. Last year, more than 2,100 volunteers contributed nearly 70,000 hours of time to the trail.
In 2012, the Ice Age Trail Alliance and other partners undertook a survey of Ice Age Trail users. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater interviewed trail users and polled businesses near the trail.
Through the market research conducted in this study, annual usage of the Ice Age Trail was estimated at 1,252,685. This estimate of trail users was measured through field survey market research conducted using a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s Joint Effort Marketing program. Field market researchers were on-site to interview users at major trail destinations during peak and “shoulder” tourism times to record number of users, usage patterns and frequency.
To gauge the economic impact of the Ice Age Trail on Wisconsin, the UW-Whitewater Fiscal and Economic Research Center built and employed an economic modeling system that produced an economic multiplier, which is a quantitative measure of economic impact that recognizes that all levels of economies are interconnected networks of interdependent activity.
The model looked at the direct effect of the trail users, volunteers and family members on items and services such as lodging, food and beverages, gas for transportation, and related expenses.
Currently there are about 640 miles of the Ice Age Trail open to the public for activities such as hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing. Land acquisition and trail construction are ongoing to complete the entire 1,200 mile route. The trail highlights world-renowned landforms sculpted by the last wave of glaciers that left Wisconsin more than 10,000 years ago.
The complete report on the economic impact of the Ice Age Trail is available through the Ice Age Trail Alliance website.