Water Trails & Paddling


Water Trail Toolkit

Economic Benefits of Water Trails

Water trails provide a variety of economic benefits at the state and local level.

  • Compared to other forms of recreational amenities, water trails are inexpensive to develop due to their limited needs for land and significant infrastructure.
  • Many communities can create a water trail simply by using existing public boat ramps and by building new river access points on existing public land.
  • Water trails create significant new opportunities for local revenue generation through tourism, patronage of local businesses including retail, dining & lodging, new business development, gear and equipment sales and rentals, and development of new festivals and events related to local rivers and water trails. 
  • “Eco-tourism”, promoted by amenities such as water trails, is clean, environmentally friendly, and boosts economic development.

Measure the Economic Impact of Your Paddling Events:

To measure the economic impact of a paddling event, river advocates can use the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Event Impact Calculator. The tool is designed to be simple and flexible. Basic parameters of an event are translated into a full economic impact analysis, which includes:

■ Business sales by industry and source
■ Impacts of sales on jobs, wages, and local taxes
■ ROI of the event against hosting costs and incentives

A report is generated for the event, and users can save, recall, or aggregate events.

For more information, check out the EIC User Manual when using the Event Impact Calculator. You can also access these resources HERE.
Resources Highlighting the Economic Benefits of Water Trails, Paddle Sports and Outdoor Recreation:
Data demonstrating the economic benefits of water trails are extremely important when working to gain the support of the community and local officials. Find helpful resources below or check out the GA Water Trails homepage for quick national and statewide statistics on outdoor recreation and watersports.
Article in the Des Moines Register detailing the projected economic stimulus that the Greater Des Moines Water Trails will bring to the city in the next five years.
Norvell, K. (2018). “Downtown Des Moines Water Trails Plans could Generate $104 Million in Tourism Dollars in Five Years.” Des Moines Register. Web. Retrieved from https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/development/2018/12/12/downtown-des-moines-des-moines-river-raccoon-river-water-trails-fundraising-return-investment/2275083002/?fbclid=IwAR3tDyub1bbDnV4_1dMTxL-psqqRhfEWcNqokC0tnk-BRY5k1hLKwlfx1xs
Budget for the Consolidated Government of Columbus, GA that includes the impact of the city’s whitewater park on the Chattahoochee River.
Finance Department of Columbus, GA Consolidated Government. (2018). “Columbus, Georgia Fiscal Year 2018 Operating Budget.” Web. Retrieved from https://www.columbusga.org/finance/Financial_Planning/Budget-Book-FY18.pdf
Economic impact analysis of both commercial and non-commercial paddling that includes estimates of annual job creation and economic contribution from two National Forests.
Maples, J. & Bradley, M. (2017). “Economic Impact of Non-Commercial Paddling and Preliminary Economic Impact Estimates of Commercial Paddling in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests.” Outdoor Alliance. Web. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54aabb14e4b01142027654ee/t/59d545dcd2b857af3a8f1af5/1507149284387/OA_NPNF_PaddleStudy.pdf
Impact of National Park visitors on local economies that includes the impact of Cumberland Island National Seashore and Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Cullinane Thomas, C. & Koontz, L. (2017). “2016 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation.” Fort Collins Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, Envrionmental Quality Division of the National Park Service. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/nature/customcf/NPS_Data_Visualization/docs/2016_VSE.pdf
Article about 2016 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects Report with a focus on the Chattahoochee River NRA and an interview with Bill Cox.
National Park Service. (2017). “Tourism to Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Creates $166.6 Million In Economic Benefits.” Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/chat/learn/news/tourism-impact-2017.htm
Regional and national overview of the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy, including water sports.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy.” Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/OIA_RecEconomy_FINAL_Single.pdf
Statewide overview of the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy, including water sports.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy – Georgia.” Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/OIA_RecEcoState_GA.pdf
Outline of a framework of opportunity for the Chattahoochee River Corridor from Peachtree Creak downstream to Chattahoochee Bend State Park.
Chattahoochee NOW & Sixpitch: Ryan Gravel. (2016). “Vision 53.” Web. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53cff048e4b04bb2ac882808/t/57f7b2ae8419c2af7bf96cc5/1475850946639/Vision53_final+20160623.pdf
Report detailing the economic impact of establishing a whitewater park on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, Maine.
O’Hara, F., Young, K., & Cannon, K. (2016). “Economic Impact of the Proposed Run of River Whitewater Park in Skowhegan, Maine.” Planning Decisions, Inc., Hallowell, & Main Street Skowhegan. Web. Retrieved from http://visitskowhegan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ROR_Economic-Impact-Study_Sept.22_v2_KMC_Proofed.pdf
A compilation report of a vast number of environmental studies combined into a concise interpretation of the future of Outdoor Recreation.
Lee-Ashley, M., Moser, C., & Madowitz, M. (2015). “The Government Should Begin to Measure America’s Powerful Outdoor Economy.” Center for American Progress. Web. Retrieved from https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/OutdoorRec-brief2.pdf
A detailed look at participation in kayaking, canoeing, rafting and stand-up paddling based on 2014 data collected annually by the Outdoor Foundation.
Outdoor Foundation & The Coleman Company, Inc. (2015). “2015 Special Report on Paddlesports.” Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2015-Paddlesports-Research.pdf
Report summarizies findings from existing studies, which provide examples of the economic impact of water trails in their respective communities, in order to provide a resource for communities considering developing a water trail.
Warren, N. (2015). “An Economic Argument for Water Trails.” River Management Society. Web. Retrieved from http://www.river-management.org/assets/WaterTrails/economic%20argument%20for%20water%20trails.pdf
A collection of various studies conducted over the years that vary in goal; the results of these studies are laid out in easy to read charts.
American Whitewater. (2014). “The Economic Impacts of River Recreation.” Web. Retrieved from http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Wiki/stewardship:recreation_economics:recreation_economics
Presentation of the plan for the Chattahoochee Valley Blueway given by Debra Edelson at the Water Economics Conference at Troy University Sept. 23, 2014. Good overview for a community interested in what the process looks like for developing a water trail.
Edelson, D. A. (2014). “Chattahoochee Valley Blueway.” PowerPoint. The Trust for Public Land. Web. Retrieved from https://www.troy.edu/phenixcity/assets/documents/cwre/2014-presentations/Edelson-Debra.pdf
Report of outdoor recreation participation based on an online survey of more than 40,000 Americans ages 6 and older and covers 114 different outdoor activities.
Outdoor Foundation. (2014). “Outdoor Participation Report 2014.” Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2014-OutdoorRecreationParticipationReport1.pdf
A compilation of fishing and hunting data collected by the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation.
Congressional Sportsmen Foundation. (2012). “America’s Sporting Heritage: Fueling the American Economy.” Web. Retrieved from http://congressionalsportsmen.org/uploads/page/EIR%20final%20low-res.pdf
A study on the economic impact of 4 water trails located in the same region of Pennsylvania.
ICF Macro, Inc. (2012). “2012 Pennsylvania Recreational Water Trails Economic Impact Study: A Four-Trail Case Study.” Web. Retrieved from http://pecpa.org/wp-content/uploads/Water-Trails-Economic-Impact-Study.pdf
Regional and national overview of the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy, including water sports.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2012). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy.” Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/pdf/OIA_OutdoorRecEconomyReport2012.pdf
An economic impact estimation of the Chattahoochee Valley Blueway.
Blair, B. F. (2012). “The Economic Impact of the Proposed Chattahoochee Valley Blueway Project.” For the Trust for Public Land by the Butler Center for Business and Economic Research, Turner College of Business, Columbus State University. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/WaterTrails/Toolbox/DownloadFile/190
A summarization and collection of various water economic studies
Edmonds, K. (2011). “Economic Benefits of Water Trails.” Georgia River Network.
A follow-up study on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, this study examined very narrow and specific stretches of the trail to monitor their impact on the area.
Pollock, N., Backler, P., Williams, K., & Mack, K. (2011). “Northern Forest Canoe Trail: Trails and Economic Development Report.” Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Web. Retrieved from http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/media/NFCT_Trail_and_Economic_Development_Report_Final_For_Web.pdf
A study to determine the economic impact of the Savannah River, in a 5 county wide section, during the 2010 fiscal year.
Noah, J. C., Porca, S., Grewal, H. S., Edington, K., Medcalfe, S., & Millies, M. C. (2011). “The Economic Impact of the Savannah River Site on Five Adjacent Counties in South Carolina and Georgia.” The O’Connell Center at the University of South Carolina – Aiken. Web. Retrieved from http://www.srscro.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/SRS-Economic-Impact-Study-Tech-Report-5-2011-2.pdf
Comprehensive profile of Iowa’s outdoor recreational resources, the current levels of participation, and the economic impact associated with those outdoor recreation activities.
Otto, D.,Tylka, K., & Erickson, S. (2011). “Economic Value of Outdoor Recreation Activities in Iowa.” Department of Economics, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Center for Agriculatural and Rural Development, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University. Commissioned by the Nature Conservancy with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Web. Retrieved from https://www.card.iastate.edu/research/resource-and-environmental/items/DNR-AmenityRevised_9-25-12.pdf
Guide for professionals to do economic impact studies that measure the economic return residents receive on park and recreation department investments.
Crompton, J. L. (2010). “Measuring the Economic Impact of Park and Recreation Services.” National Recreation and Park Association. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nrpa.org/uploadedFiles/nrpa.org/Publications_and_Research/Research/Papers/Crompton-Research-Paper.pdf
An examination of paddling trends by participation from 2006-2008; this includes regional, economic, age, ethnicity, and education trends.
Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Foundation. (2009). “A Special Report on Paddle Sports.”
The results and implications of an economic questionnaire presented to North Carolina paddlers.
Beedle, J. (2008). “2008 Paddle Tourism Study.” North Carolina State Trails Program. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/WaterTrails/Toolbox/DownloadFile/129


1. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy.” pg1; pg 18.https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/OIA_RecEconomy_FINAL_Single.pdf 

2. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2012). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy Report.”pg 1; pg 17. https://outdoorindustry.org/pdf/OIA_OutdoorRecEconomyReport2012.pdf 

3. Discover Georgia Outdoors – Tourism Impact Brochure. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

4. Outdoor Industry Association. (2002). “Outdoor Recreation Participation & Spending Study: A State-by-State Perspective.” pg. 14. https://www.outdoorindustry.org

5. Outdoor Foundation, “Special Report on Fishing and Boating.” (2012). pg 44. https://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/ResearchFishing2012.pdf

6. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy – Georgia.” https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/OIA_RecEcoState_GA.pdf 


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