Silent Sports Contribute $16.5 Million To The New “Up North”

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.

Still the Musky Capitol of the World, but there is a lot more to do in Boulder Junction than fish, as their website shows.

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.

The paved trails in Vilas County run past the Highlands State Forest campgrounds and Trout Lake, one of my favorite campgrounds/beaches in Wisconsin.

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.

The new and the old: me (OK, I’m old too) with my Milwaukee BIcycle Company t-shirt outside Zastrows Lynx Lake Lodge.

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.

Beautiful Bayfield County. Photo courtesy North Coast Cycling Association

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?




About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

6 thoughts on “Silent Sports Contribute $16.5 Million To The New “Up North”

  1. Saw this study last week when we were up north in the Hayward/Cable area. It’s great, but underestimates the silent sports impact due to info gathering method. They state that due to the difficulty of surveying they did not sit at trailheads, rather they used contact info from event entries. While the counties are very popular for events, I’d guess that people who do them are a relatively small portion of the silent sports visitors. Be that as it may, the figures are very good news. About 10 years ago a study up north showed that silent sports visitors spent virtually the same per day as motor sports visitors, about $120 vs $125 as I recall. This dispels the myth “It’s da snowmobilers dat spend da money” you’d hear in any local tavern. Around that time I was with Telemark Resort and wanted to produce a good trail map that could be practical and promotional. Nothing in the budget. I borrowed a concept from the snomo maps of selling business card size ads. I easily paid for the map layout, printing and mailing selling ads to galleries, markets, upscale restaurants and, interestingly, realtors (got all but one). Didn’t even bother contacting the taverns which were smoke-hazed at the time. Did feel a twinge of regret on that as Metro’s Ski Inn between Cable and Telemark was also a good reastaurant/bar and always a fave for me and my friends despite the smoke in bar section. Ran into Metro at the post office and, not wanting him to feel offended that I didn’t ask, told him what I was up to. He declined, as I expected, saying, “Think I’ll just let them find it the way they always have, by the god damn Braille method.” Ah the Northwoods.

    • Phil,

      A few years ago I had a similar experience with the old-school owner of Zastrow’s Lynx Lake Lodge. I asked him if he had heard about any plans to extend the paved trail from Boulder Junction up past his resort to Presque Isle. He was non-plussed about the idea and said something about it being a waste of money. I didn’t argue with him, though I noted at peak summer, his restaurant was only half full and there was a wait to get into all the places along the bike trail. Now they are expanding the trail to get to Manitowish Waters, and there are later plans to try to connect to Presque Isle, but those might bypass his place. Sometimes change is hard for people to accept, even if it benefits them.

  2. My wife and I were working on a SAGBRAW route for Wheel & Sprocket about 20 years ago and we stopped at the Shell gas station at the north end of the trailhead in Boulder Junction. We bought gas, snack and used the rest room. We were having a nice talk with the guy running the place. This was over Easter and there was still lots of snow up north.

    Anyway I said we were working on a bike route from Boulder Junction, over to Conover, and then maybe to Rhinelander. He asked how we would get to Conover. I said, “the trail and then Highway K.”

    He stopped, looked at me, and said, “I live on highway K and there are continuous double yellow lines along it, I will not cross the double yellow lines, it is against the law, so I come up behind cyclists, blow my horn, and force them off the road.” We walked away without further comment.

    At that time the state published a bike map and highway K was a recommended bike route. (as was Highway 73 south of Neilsville where a runaway trailer killed two friends and the cops said we shouldn’t have been there, too dangerous, even with a 6 foot paved shoulder.) Highway K is still a Rustic Road, lower speed limit, but narrow and no shoulder, and usually a bad sight line. I’ve always been conflicted about using Rustic Roads on a bike tour. There is a very, very nice one in Rural, WI, crossing the Crystal River three times that I like to ride on.

  3. Thanks to Bike Fed it’s no longer illegal to cross the yellow lines to pass cyclists. Although it may take another 20 years before some motorists catch up with the state of the law. When we got the single-file riding rule repealed and allowed two-abreast (providing you are not impeding traffic) I had an ignorant Madeline Island cop chastise me for riding two-abreast, even though he had an entire oncoming lane to use to pass us. Maybe he just didn’t like bicyclists and the dollars we drop in the communities he was protecting and serving.

  4. Stevens Point is a Bronze Level Bike-Friendly Town, and has as high or higher bike modal share than Madison. Portage county didn’t vote for Walker. Portage county has the excellent Tomorrow River Trail. So Stevens Point is hands down the bicycle capital of N. WI. Also there are a few other Northern counties that didn’t vote for Walker. So those are Good places to bike and spend your money. But then Wisconsin Bike Fed has a blog post titled: “Walker Saves the Recreational Trails”; what would they know? It is very unfortunate that WI doesn’t have a commuter train between Madison and Milwaukee that would carry bikes for free.

  5. I think Bayfield and Ashland Counties are Good suggestions, also Douglas county; Sawyer and especially Price, not so much. Stevens Point may have the highest bike model share in the state, and is also a member of WI Bike Fed…….

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