“Active community, balanced lifestyles, time in nature, pride and sense of ownership” were a few of the terms used by UNBC students to describe the benefits of the Boer Mountain trails.
Last week, UNBC’s research methods in outdoor recreation and tourism class released the results of a study conducted earlier this year in Burns Lake. The study assessed the economic and social impact of mountain biking development in Burns Lake.
Among the findings are the direct economic benefits of the trails, including the opening of Burnt Bikes and the increased clientele for restaurants, grocery stores and hotels from visitors coming to the trails. However, the study does not present specific numbers on these economic benefits.
The largest economic contribution of the trail system are the expenditures associated with design, construction and maintenance of the trail network. Over the course of the development of the trails, the Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association (BLMBA) has received almost $2 million in both cash and in-kind donations from various stakeholders.
In addition, the trails make a significant contribution to health cost savings, as physical activity helps improve overall health and reduces the risk for chronic diseases. The annual medical cost savings are estimated at $1500 annually for those who exercise regularly, doubling that amount for those over the age of 65, according to the study.
This results in an estimation of total health care cost savings for BLMBA members of $147,375 each year. And given that the trail network serves many more community members, as well as tourists, this number could be significantly higher.
As part of the research, UNBC students conducted face-to-face interviews and an online survey with BLMBA members. One of the main ideas raised by locals was the notion of community pride.
“Many users and members are incredibly proud of the area that they created as a community,” says the study.
The trails also provide youth with the opportunity for cross-generational learning. Many of the youth who have been students in bike camps, are now taking on the roles of leading the programs and becoming mentors to other youth and children.
Furthermore, the trails are noted as being a key attractant for individuals to stay in the community. Tourists are also staying in Burns Lake because of the accessible camping near the recreation site.
“People are no longer passing through,” says the study.
Volunteers – the “beating heart” of the Burns Lake trails
The volunteer hours that have contributed to the building and maintenance of the trails at the Boer Mountain Recreation Site have played a critical role in its success, according to the UNBC study.
Since its inception, a total of almost 20,000 volunteer hours have been recorded for Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association (BLMBA) members, equating to a value just under of $300,000. Other organizations such as the Burns Lake Fire Attack crew have also donated a substantial amount of labour to the development of the trail network.
Study participants recognized how critical volunteering has been for the trails.
“The benefits were noted not just in the tangible result of building and maintaining the trails but perhaps more importantly in building pride, community cohesion, developing new friendships and a sense of ownership,” says the study. “Future maintenance and upkeep of the trail system will strongly depend on the continued support of these many volunteers.”
Guy Epkens-Shaffer, BLMBA president, said the UNBC research will assist the organization with grant applications since BLMBA will be able to present quantitative information to funding agencies and local governments.