Mechanized means of ascending mountain peaks generate higher economic benefits than more traditional methods like hiking, according to a recent Colorado State University study. However, the study also found the presence of roads or other mechanized travel on peaks dilutes the perceived value of the experience for hikers – an important consideration for policymakers who will need to balance economic benefits.
The study, conducted by the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at CSU, showed that mechanized means, such as cog railways, generate a greater perceived benefit to the user than hiking the same mountain. Cog railway riders, automobile users and those who ascend by hiking report benefits valued at $98, $54 and $31 respectively per day trip. These benefits, which represent the perceived total "value of the experience," are in addition to what recreationists already have spent on the trip. The researchers used a travel-cost model to estimate the recreational demand for traditional and novel means of ascending Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.
CSU researchers John Loomis and Catherine Keske collected data from people visiting Pikes Peak. After surveying about 200 people, results showed cog railways provided a rare opportunity to gaze from the top of a mountain peak for those not able or willing to engage in a long hike.
While the study touted the economic advantages mechanized mountain ascents can have for parks, it also noted potential implications like visitor crowding. The study explained an influx of visitors could cause traditional recreationists to hike on less crowded mountains. Additionally, the study said that there could be a negative reaction from traditional recreationists toward proposals to add trams or roads that provide access to the tops of high mountain peaks.
"There are two interesting aspects to this study," Keske said. "One is that cog railways and automobile ascents open the door for many recreationists to enjoy the beauty and exhilaration of high mountain peaks. On the other hand, these unique modes of transportation clearly affect the value of the hiking experience. These are two trade-offs that should be considered by policymakers."
Currently, of Colorado’s 54 mountains that exceed 14,000 feet above sea level, only Pikes Peak and Mount Evans can be accessed by a motor vehicle. Pikes Peak is the only mountain that can be visited by cog rail.
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