Small business survey shows economic impacts of Continental Divide Trail


By Amanda Wheelock

Special to The SUN

A new survey of 200 small business owners along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) shows overwhelming agreement that protection of public lands is important to the economies of small, rural communities in the Rocky Mountain West.

The answers provided by these small business owners provide strong evidence that the CDT and the people that use it are a vital and growing part of the economic activity in towns along the 3,100-mile National Scenic Trail — and that business owners see the economic value in protecting the trail and the public lands it traverses.

Of all business owners who responded:

• 97 percent believe that protecting, promoting and enhancing public lands is important to the well-being of their community’s economy.

• 88 percent have seen growth in business in their community in the last five years due to use of the CDT.

• 58 percent have seen growth in their business in particular in the last five years due to use of the CDT.

Because the CDT stays as close as possible to the geographic Continental Divide as it makes its way from Canada to Mexico, the 32 communities represented by the respondents are predominately small, rural mountain towns. Respondents work in a variety of industries, from hotels to health care, but the vast majority own what can truly be called “small” businesses: more than half took in less than $200,000 in gross revenues in 2018, and 92 percent employ fewer than 25 people during peak season.

“Protecting the Continental Divide Trail is vital to my business,” said Caleb Efta, director of the High Lonesome 100 ultramarathon, which takes place in the Sawatch Range each summer. “People come from all over the country and world to run the High Lonesome 100, and our race can only exist because of the outstanding public lands and trails we have here in Colorado.”

By focusing on small business owners in communities along the Continental Divide, the new survey provides more local, personal context to recent national studies of the booming outdoor recreation industry.

Just last month, the nonpartisan Headwaters Economics released a report analyzing new state-level data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Its analysis showed that growth of the outdoor economy significantly outpaced that of overall GDP in every Rocky Mountain state from 2012-2017. In Colorado, the outdoor recreation GDP grew more than one and a half times the rate of the state’s overall GDP during this period.

A report of the full survey results can be found at

About the CDT

The CDT is one of the world’s premiere long-distance trails, stretching 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide. Designated by Congress in 1978, the CDT is the highest, most challenging and most remote of the 11 national scenic trails. It provides recreational opportunities ranging from hiking to horseback riding to hunting for thousands of visitors each year. While 95 percent of the CDT is located on public land, approximately 180 miles are still in need of protection.

About the Continental Divide Trail Coalition

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) was founded in 2012 by volunteers and recreationists hoping to provide a unified voice for the Trail. Working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land management agencies, the CDTC is a nonprofit organization supporting stewardship of the CDT.

The mission of the CDTC is to complete, promote and protect the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, a world-class national resource. For more information, please visit