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Business Tips for a Trail Riding Enterprise

Profit Planner panelists tackle key issues of starting recreational enterprises.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

January 29, 2008

4 Min Read

September's Profit Planner column in American Agriculturist began answering questions raised by two Northeast young farmers about developing a trail riding enterprise for all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. Due to our panelists' enthusiastic response, we've continued their commentaries here.

The Profit Planner panelists include Michael Evanish, business services manager of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's Members' Service Corp.; Dale Johnson, Extension farm management economist at University of Maryland; George Mueller, dairy farmer from Clifton Springs, N.Y.; and Glenn Rogers, Extension farm management specialist at University of Vermont.

Mike Evanish: Your attorney is needed so proper legal steps can be taken to protect your assets in the event of an accident. Your insurance agent needs contacted so that the proper coverages can be secured.

Once these professionals are on board and the costs associated with what they see as needing done is known, then contact local and state government authorities to see what permits will be needed. There may be none needed, but due diligence requires that you search this out. Your attorney should be able to help.

Once liability possibilities are covered and needed permits are uncovered, then do a partial budget. That'll give you an early look at what the profit potential might be.

Dale Johnson: Now for the questions you need to answer before kicking off this venture:

Are you crazy? What do your parents think about this? What do your other neighbors think about this? If they're as crazy as you are, then go ahead and proceed.

How will your parents and you deal with the liability? Have you talked to your insurance agent and lawyer? Can you get insurance?

Should you offer short-term leases instead of guided excursions to partially transfer liability to the leaseholders? But if you do, how much control will you forfeit?

How will you keep things under control in either a lease or guide scenario? How will you keep your customers on your properties?

What are your safety protocols?

What are your age restrictions?

What sizes and types of machines will you allow? How will you deal with the noise?

How will you keep stray riders out during all of the other days you aren't open for business, and when you may not be around?

How do you avoid or mitigate environmental degradation of your property that'll surely occur?

Tell your friends about your business. Drop off brochures at the ATV/snowmobile dealers. Word will spread like wildfire. You'll book customers weeks in advance, and they will come, rain or shine. Let me know, so I can come!

George Mueller: You'll probably charge a fee for providing the trail system, trail ride experience and perhaps a campfire meal somewhere on the trail. Another idea is to label the trees, plants, and animal dwellings along the way and make it into a real educational nature trail.

Start slowly with perhaps one trail to discover area demand. Advertise with inexpensive reader ads in your local "penny-savers".

Inform your insurance agent. Extra liability insurance is a must for both farms.

Glenn Rogers: It's a great way to see the "back country", providing it's done with care, with respect to the environment, the wildlife and to the landowner. But these issues have plagued the industries for decades. Until we master them, with everyone complying, they'll continue to be problematic.

To kick off such a venture, talk with the ATV and the snow travelers associations. Show them what you have to offer. High quality, low impact, scenic family fun ventures are a great way to get started.

Show them you've done your homework. You have permits in place. You've mapped out the trails, and have the support of your neighbors, the community, and your families.

Offer packages for groups. Listen to their needs and wants, and try to incorporate them into your offerings.

Finally, do a business plan with some sensitivity testing. Sensitivity testing includes such things as increasing expenses by 10%, decreasing income by 10 to 20% and changing loan interest rates by 3%. Include some long-term and short-term goals, and alternative uses in that business plan.

If you've misplaced your September issue, you can find it and the original page 16 story on this Web site under "magazines online".

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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