Bicycling provided $137 million in economic benefits to northwest Arkansas in 2017, according to three new studies by the Walton Family Foundation.
More: See the studies here.
The first study, commissioned in partnership with PeopleForBikes, showed that more than 90,000 mountain bike tourists visited the region in the last 12 months, and visitors spent $27 million at local businesses last year.
Local people reported spending more than $21 million in 2017 on bicycling goods and events, and many residents cited proximity to bicycle infrastructure as a major consideration when deciding where to live, work or locate businesses.
Residents' cycling habits are also above the nation as a whole. According to the study, 27 percent of locals rode bikes six or more days in the last year — a rate 11 percentage points higher than the national average. This level of activity contributed approximately $86 million in annual health benefits in 2017.
The foundation has partnered with PeopleForBikes to offer the study's templates free of charge as a resource to cities and regions across the country.
Over the last 10 years, the foundation has provided $74 million to support the construction of 163 miles of natural-surface trails and paved paths in northwest Arkansas. To measure the impact of its investment, the foundation commissioned a second study analyzing trail usage across the region.
The study showed a 24 percent increase in average annual bicycle usage and a 10 percent increase in average annual pedestrian usage over the last two years. Comparing cycling levels per capita, northwest Arkansas reports higher daily cyclist trail use than bike-friendly areas like San Francisco.
Similarly, the region reports more pedestrians per capita using trails than heavily populated areas like San Diego County. The study also showed the highest levels of use by cyclists and pedestrians in densely populated and low-to-medium income areas.
In an effort to obtain benchmark data on policy, funding, design trends and best practices for similar trail programs, the foundation's third study evaluated information from eight peer cities and two aspirational ones — Austin and Minneapolis — against data from northwest Arkansas. While the average cost of trails in peer cities was $313.75 per linear foot, the region reported an average cost of $217.09 per linear foot.
Outside northwest Arkansas, the foundation is supporting the development of a 30-mile expansion of the Big River Trail in the Arkansas Delta through its Home Region Program.
In addition, Steuart Walton and Tom Walton have provided funding for several other trail building initiatives across the state and for a maintenance program for the state’s designated International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Epic Trails. Arkansas is now the only state in the nation with a professional maintenance crew.