LOWVILLE — That recreation and tourism can bring significant revenue to a host area is not new information. That local and visiting snowmobilers laid down an estimated $101.1 million annually in direct spending in the Tug Hill region is.
The new information is an analysis of data collected in a survey of snowmobilers conducted by Jefferson Community College Center for Community Studies in the first quarter of the year.
The resulting report released this month offers tough to arrive upon estimates like the number of people who come to Tug Hill specifically for snowmobiling and the economic and tax impact the industry has on the four Tug Hill counties — Lewis, Jefferson, Oswego and Oneida.
The study was the brainchild of Lewis County Economic Development headed by Brittany Davis.
“I think it’s a great start to having the discussions that need to be had about the industry,” Mrs. Davis said. “I think we can definitely use these numbers to say ‘Look at how much of an impact this industry is having. There’s so much potential for growth and development not only with the industry but to support businesses.’”
She said she found enthusiasm and support from the Tug Hill Commission to take a regional rather than a county perspective, ultimately bringing in Jefferson County Economic Development, Oswego County Tourism, Oneida County Tourism, the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce and Operation Oswego County.
Saratoga Springs-based Camoin 310 Associates performed the data analysis and compiled the resulting report.
“This study is intended to quantify the impact of the snowmobile users on the Tug Hill Region and demonstrate... the snowmobiling industry’s importance to the regional economy,” the company stated in the report.
Camoin 310 based its analysis on the magnification of the survey information and modeling software to help generate economic impact estimates that can estimate indirect impacts like business to business spending as well as induced impact from employee spending.
The economic impact analysis only takes into consideration spending that exists because of the snowmobiling industry and so “does not include the effect of spending by individuals who live in the region or who travel to the region for other reasons and also use the snowmobile trails.”
One of the most challenging statistics to pinpoint is the number of people who come to the area to snowmobile every year.
By considering the survey respondents as an accurate random sample of snowmobile enthusiasts using Tug Hill trails, Camoin 310 reasoned that because 48% of the survey takers live in the region, the remaining 52% of sledders come to the area specifically for the sport.
They also made an assumption that the 16,442 members of snowmobile clubs in Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Oswego counties are locals which would be 48% of the total number of people that sled on the Hill.
Doing the math, they estimated that about 17,812 of a total 34,254 snowmobilers on Tug Hill every year come to the region specifically for the sport.
The survey responses indicated that non-local snowmobilers spent about 19.5 days in the Tug Hill region annually, the report said, which means 347,337 days are spent on Tug Hill sledding by enthusiasts from outside of the region.
Survey responses also indicated that out-of-towners come on snowmobile trips that last about 2.4 days in groups of about 4.5 people, on average, usually on the weekends, spending about $2,934 per trip.
Broadening those statistics, Camoin 310 estimated about $192 is spent daily per person on snowmobiling, totalling about $66.6 million in direct spending for all non-local sledders on everything from food and lodging, gas, equipment and repairs, shopping and gas.
Local snowmobilers were estimated to spend about $151 daily on average, making their economic activity total an additional $43.5 million in direct spending.
Using financial modeling software to calculate the indirect and induced financial impact of the non-local sledders, the total spent was estimated to be about $81.6 million — 19%, or $15.5 million, in Lewis County; 23% or $18.8 million in Jefferson County; and 29% each in Oswego and Oneida counties at $23.7 million.
Snowmobiling supports an estimated 866 jobs snowmobiling with earnings at the $28.8 million mark. Of that jobs total, 748 are directly related to the industry, the majority of which are in restaurants and hotels, followed by motor vehicle and parts dealers and workers, totalling $23.2 million in earnings annually.
The industry’s impact on tax revenue, including sales, property and occupancy taxes, in the four counties, referred to as the “fiscal impact” in the report, is also significant.
The portion of property tax revenue for each county that can be attributed to snowmobile users and their contribution to the local economy was calculated to be $172,122 for Lewis; $87,160 for Jefferson; and $112,715 for Oswego County, while snowmobiler spending resulted in sales tax revenue of $247,989 in Lewis; $300,197 in Jefferson; and $378,510 in Oswego County.
Direct lodging brought in $12.4 million to Tug Hill economies, according to the report, almost half of which was in Oneida County, followed by 26% in Oswego, 20% in Jefferson and 4% in Lewis County — the only one to collect an occupancy tax on Airbnb rentals.
The JCC team worked with the partner organizations to develop the survey and ensure that it reached as many snowmobilers as possible.
Representatives from snowmobile clubs on the steering committee for the study were crucial to its success, according to the Tug Hill Commission Executive Director Katie Malinowski, by offering their insights and experience in guiding the process.
“It really helped us do a better job with the survey,” Mrs. Malinowski said. “And they helped figure out where the best points were where the students could go out and conduct the survey where there would be high traffic. That was really key.”
A total of 2,416 surveys were completed by people from 789 different zip codes in 13 states including New York — the largest response the Community Studies team has had in their surveys, according to Mrs. Davis.
Of those respondents, 79% identified as male, almost half were between 46 and 65 years old, 76% had at least some higher education ranging from a technical degree or some college to a graduate degree and 55% said they earn more than $100,000 annually.
Sixty-five percent of survey respondents rated their overall snowmobiling experience in the Tug Hill region as excellent while 35% said it is good.
Trail maintenance, signage and increasing trail miles were the three things that could use improving in Tug Hill snowmobiling according to survey takers.
“Notably, the snowmobile trails in the Tug Hill region and throughout Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Oswego counties are entirely volunteer maintained — a significant undertaking without which the industry and its associated impacts would not exist,” the report’s introduction states.
Almost half of the respondents, 1,018, said that private landowners allowing trails on their property should be offered incentives to “safeguard” the future of snowmobiling.
“It’s such a fragile industry,” Mrs. Davis said. “If it were not for volunteers and landowners we would not have the industry we have today, so what are we going to do to make sure that it’s a solid and stable industry for the future. I think that’s where we need to start.”