Press Releases

Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research releases Helena trail survey report

Helena residents consider trail system very important
to quality of life

According to a report issued by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, more than 63,000 hikers, runners, walkers and bikers recreated in the South Hills trail system in the summer of 2017. ITRR’s report was based on survey data it collected between May and September last year.

Surveyors with ITRR intercepted 950 trail users between May and September 2017 to inquire about their trail use and any spending in the Helena area. Combining the survey information collected with both manual and electronic counts of users entering the trail system, ITRR estimated that more than 63,000 users took part in outdoor recreation.

Of these numbers, 17,438 were on mountain bikes and 45,602 were on foot. Just over a quarter of all mountain bike activity was from users outside the local (Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties) area, and one in five users on foot were nonlocal.

Prickly Pear Land Trust is excited about the report’s findings.

“PPLT strives for bettering quality of life benchmarks and this real-time data provides important information to assist in our planning and understanding of the economic and social impacts of our South Hills land acquisition and trails work,” said PPLT executive director Mary Hollow. “It was wonderful to see the high values placed on our work in building the South Hills land estate and establishing and maintaining the trails system with the city of Helena and U.S. Forest Service over the years.”

The survey also indicated that more than half of Helena residents surveyed rated the trail system as very important to their quality of life, and 55 percent indicate they use the trails at least occasionally. This is good news in terms of our community’s collective health and well-being.

“Countless studies show the correlation of spending more time outdoors with improved physical and mental health,” said Dr. Monica Berner, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. “Not only do Helena’s amazing trails add to the quality of life here, but they are also an amenity for attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce. Many of our employees, myself included, incorporate the trails as an integral part of our healthy lifestyle, and consider them to be one of the biggest reasons we love living and working here.”

To read the entire report, visit