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Poverty, a social determinant of health, is common in rural communities. Developing recreation and tourism infrastructure, such as trails, has the potential to reduce disparities and improve rural quality of life through effects on health and local economies. There is limited information that exists on the economic impact of outdoor recreation and tourism on small, rural communities, but there is a known relationship between economic well‐being and health. Cuba, New Mexico, a small rural community, experiences high rates of obesity and diabetes among its tri‐ethnic (Hispanic, American Indian, Anglo) population. The University of New Mexico Prevention Research Center (PRC) has partnered with Cuba to increase awareness of, develop, and study the effects of walking and hiking trails. The Santa Fe National Forest Service (SFNFS) and New Mexico Bureau of Land Management (NMBLM) recently proposed to construct a new segment of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) near Cuba. The PRC is conducting a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) including the economic impact of the proposed trail segment. An HIA uses multiple data sources and stakeholder input to determine the effects of a proposed plan on the health of a population. We conducted mixed methods research focused on the economic component of the HIA by examining data from local and visitor populations to predict the likelihood of trail use, related expenditures, and the public’s perceptions of the CDT expansion on the community. Decision‐makers including the SFNFS, the NMBLM, NM Department of Transportation, Sandoval County, and the Village of Cuba will use the results to determine exact CDT placement, access, and design. Economic effects predicted from this HIA may help decision‐makers maximize desirable economic outcomes. Our findings indicate that CDT development has the potential to attract many users from central and northwest New Mexico and provide substantial local economic stimulation. This HIA will also serve as a model for others interested in studying and projecting both health and economic impacts of new trails.

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The Potential Economic Impact of the Continental Divide Trail in Cuba, New Mexico