Crow Wing County has requested help from local municipalities in planning for a new ATV trail. Before decision makers commit, they may want to consider the following.
All human activities involve unintended consequences and ATVs are no different. ATV side effects? Deaths, injuries, vandalism of public and private property, drunken driving, enforcement, litigation, rescue services, ecological destruction, spread of noxious or invasive plants, erosion, pollution, back country littering, the health costs of obesity, harm to wildlife, noise.
Side effects represent social costs, i.e. costs paid for by society. An externality is a cost that is not considered in the price of a private transaction. These costs aren't paid by the ATV industry, and thus the assumption ATVs are only of economic benefit to society is a delusion.
A 2006 University of Minnesota report claims ATV users contribute $642 million dollars to Minnesota's economy. None of the social costs of the side effects listed above were considered in calculating the figure.
Decision makers in Crow Wing County assume that with an additional ATV trail that they'll get a slice of the economic benefit pie, but again there are problems. New money comes into the state only from nonresident riders and studies elsewhere suggest a maximum of 10-20 percent nonresident riders.
Most county ATV riders are Minnesota residents. Local resident riders spend only what they would have spent here anyhow. Result? No benefit.
The most significant argument against increasing ATV traffic here has to do with the sum of the costs of the side effects.
Before any decision to build a new ATV trail is finalized, deciders might want to keep in mind: There is no such thing as a free lunch. My contention is that once all the costs are considered there would be little gain to the county.
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