If you can’t tell, we’re a cycling destination, and an international one at that. Not only do we attract riders year round from across the United States, but, in the late winter/early spring, the county is popular among Canadian cyclists seeking to escape frigid temperatures and enjoy some road training and trail riding.
As the season moves on, local races will attract international athletes who wish to test their mettle against Pisgah’s legendary trails. This year, the Pisgah Stage Race is drawing people from 25 states and 14 countries and road rides like the Assault on the Carolinas and the WNC Flyer each draw 1,000 riders to Brevard.
All of that cycling activity has an important impact on our local economy, more than many people realize. Last year, professors at the University of Kentucky, in collaboration with the non-profit Outdoor Alliance, conducted a study of visiting and local mountain bikers. The study found that, economically, cycling is a big deal in the “Pisgah area” which includes Brevard, Asheville, Hendersonville and everywhere in between.
The visiting mountain bikers to the Pisgah area spent an estimated $14 million per year, supporting 198 jobs and $5 million in job income for those workers. Taxes generated in the Pisgah area include $763,771 in state production taxes, $117,191 in state household taxes, $603,746 in federal employee compensation taxes, $282,303 in federal household taxes and $280,253 in federal corporate taxes.
As far as mountain bikers who live in this region, they generated an estimated $11,035,993 in mountain biking expenditures, most of which was spent in local bike shops.
According to Todd Branham, the organizer of the Pisgah Stage Race and owner of Blue Ridge Adventures, the stage race is a large contributor to the Transylvania County economy. Riders come from all over the world, stay for a week or longer, rent homes, hotel rooms, visit the local bike shops and eat at all the restaurants.
In the broader region, mountain biking visitors spend an estimated $30.2 million per year in and around western North Carolina. Throughout the region, mountain biker tourism supports 366 full-time jobs and $9 million in job income. Western North Carolina residents spend an additional $18 million as a result of mountain biking.
And that’s just the mountain biking. One of the biggest catalysts for cycling-related jobs in western North Carolina is infrastructure for community and road cycling.
According to Joe Sanders, former president of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, infrastructure improvements like bridge replacements create 11.6 jobs, safety and traffic management creates 10.3 jobs, new highway construction and pavement widening creates 12.5 jobs, and greenways, sidewalks and bicycle facilities create 17 jobs. Projects like greenways and sidewalks have the biggest impact, he explained, because they act as a long-term catalyst.
“Once you put them in they become an economic engine, and you only have to go half-an- hour south to the Swamp Rabbit trail to see the direct effects,” he said. “I went to Travelers Rest in 1985 and it was a ghost town. Now it’s a thriving community, and every piece of real estate is taken or spoken for. That’s one of the reasons why bike and pedestrian facilities generate more jobs, because they attract small business, and those businesses serve the people using those facilities.”
In order to support all this cycling activity between Asheville, N.C. and Greenville, S.C., there are about 20 bike shops that supply riders with the gear they need to ride our roads and trails. On an industrial level, manufacturers like Cane Creek, Öhlins USA, Industry Nine and Fox have all set up shop in the region, because there aren’t many better places to test products than our mountains. They are gnarly, wet and brutal on equipment. Where else would they test this stuff?
So the next time you’re feeling guilty about upgrading your bike, or buying a new helmet, or taking a weekend trip to go mountain biking, remind yourself that you’re supporting the local economy. Cycling in our mountains has grown to become far more than just a fun recreational activity; it’s become an integral part of the economy in western North Carolina.
And it’s not just cycling, either. Outdoor recreation in North Carolina has become such a powerhouse that the General Assembly created a state-funded Outdoor Recreation office, headed by David Knight. Knight’s position has been funded by the state legislature for two years, and his mission is to support and promote the outdoor industry, to attract these types of businesses to North Carolina, and to tap into the market and social power of the outdoor industry and the people attracted to the lifestyle.
Knight has been on a tour of the state, meeting with industry honchos, lawmakers and other people involved in outdoor recreation. According to Knight, the Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA) economic impact study, published last year, says consumers spend $887 billion on outdoor recreation across the country, creating 7.6 million jobs, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.
The OIA is a nonprofit focused on policy change, outdoor recreation and natural resource sustainability throughout the country.
In North Carolina, outdoor recreation is the fourth largest economy behind hospital care, outpatient health care, and financial and insurance services. In North Carolina, outdoor recreation annually generates $28 billion in consumer spending, 260,000 direct jobs, $8.3 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Much of that impact is felt locally. Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway are the most visited national forest and park in the country.
Knight said that there is nothing specific for Transylvania County or Brevard that he is working on yet, other than engaging community leaders. Part of his job is helping communities promote and brand themselves.
“You have to be receptive and open to a diversity of businesses and types of people,” he said. “That’s important to be able to grow in the rural environment.”