A new study shows silent sports like bicycling and cross country skiing are reshaping our views of traditional tourism and have a growing impact on the economy in Northern Wisconsin. The study of silent sports 2012 event participants Ashland, Bayfield and Sawyer Counties, done by the UW Madison Extension, found that 95 percent of the roughly 26,700 silent sports event participants surveyed were nonresidents who made about 56,500 individual trips to this northern Wisconsin region and spent an average of about $468 per trip. The study found a total economic impact by nonresident visitors of $26.4 million in 2012. Direct spending in the study region was annualized at $14.7 million and when factored for indirect and induced effects, the total economic impact is measured at $16.7 million.
Although I was born and raised in Milwaukee, like most families in Wisconsin, mine has taken regular vacations “Up North” since I was a child. I have slightly closer connection to the Northwoods, since my mother is from Park Falls, “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World.” Every summer my brother and I spent a week on the water pulling in walleye after walleye at Boyd’s Mason Lake Resort, a wonderful old resort my mother went to when she was a girl scout. Now that I am older and have a family of my own, we have branched out a bit to the northeast and call Zastrow’s Lynx Lake Lodge outside the musky capitol of the world a favorite of ours. And regular readers will know that I go deer hunting in a little town called Peeksville, in Ashland County.
While biking and skiing may not push hunting and fishing off the top of the list for northwoods pastimes, they are part of most family vacations now. When I go to Boulder Junction, there are more bike racks in the rear receiver than balls for boat trailers. People still want to fish, but not all day like we did when I was a kid. Now families looking for vacation spots want hunting, fishing, supper clubs, swimming, biking, as well as good coffee shops and shopping on Main Street.
Many towns across the Northwoods recognized this shift and began investing in trails for biking and skiing long ago. The hundreds of miles of world class mountain biking and cross country skiing in Chequamegon National Forest attract tens of thousands of visitors every year and are probably the most well known silent sports mecca Up North, but others are gaining popularity. A diverse public and private partnership is expanding the wonderful paved network of trails in Vilas County.
In fact, a friendly competition seems to be evolving between Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters to claim the right to the bicycling capitol of the Northwoods. Not far away, CAMBA volunteers from the North Coast Cycling Association are working with private investors and public agencies to build a new netowrk of purpose-built, next generation mountain bike trails on hills overlooking Lake Superior around Bayfield and Washburn. The Bayfield Chamber of Commerce has produced a map of great recreational bike routes on the low traffic, scenic roads around Bayfield County.
As a guy who eats a lot of venison and takes pride in the fact that his grandma wound rods for St. Croix, I couldn’t be happier to about the New Up North. It’s good for the local economies of these small towns, good for state tourism, and good for my family vacations. My only question, is who will be the first to lay claim to the title as Bicycle Capitol of the Northwoods? Anyone?