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Impacts of trails and trail use
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North Carolina comprehensive trail and greenway survey

From the North Carolina Div. of Parks and Recreation

Map of North CarolinaThe State Trails Program of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation sponsored a comprehensive trail and greenway study in 1998 to provide information necessary to assist all interested organizations and partners in planning and developing trails and greenways across North Carolina. This executive summary presents the results of the study, conducted by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at North Carolina State University. The statistically valid data for this report were obtained from telephone interviews and mailed survey questionnaires from randomly selected North Carolina residents.

RESULTS

This portion of the report summarizes the findings of both the telephone and mail portions of the survey. It is organized into sections describing the following: respondent characteristics; trail use; constraints to trail use; trail awareness, availability and information sources; most recent trail visit; the importance of trails in North Carolina; and the future of trails in North Carolina. Included in the figures on the following pages are commonly used statistical notations which may help the reader to interpret the data (n -- the number of survey respondents who answered the question being described; mean-- the average response; median-- the midpoint of the responses; standard deviation-- an indication of the variation of the observations around the mean).

Respondent Characteristics

Slightly more than half (53%) of respondents were female. The most common age group was that between 40 and 49 years, although almost one quarter were 60 or older, and 40% were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-nine (Figure 2). The reader is reminded that those younger than 18 were screened out during the interview process and were, therefore, not included as respondents. The sample was relatively well educated overall, with over three quarters (88%) having graduated from high school and 31% from college. They had relatively high annual household incomes as well. The most common category was between $35,000 and $49,999, with nearly a third (31%) reporting incomes of $50,000 of higher. There was, however, a sizable group (7%) who made less than $15,000 annually.

The majority (60%) reported that their households included two adults while only one adult was present in another 22%. Over half (60%) of the respondents indicated that there were no children living with them. Another third had one or two children at home and 7% reported three or more children living in their household

Trail Use

Approximately one third of respondents indicated that they had used a trail or greenway in North Carolina at least once during the previous 12 months. A total of 16% indicated that they had used a trail outside of North Carolina during the same period. (Note that all further results discussed in this report relate only to trails and greenways in North Carolina.) The recent users of trails in North Carolina (last 12 months) were roughly equally split between males (53%) and females (47%). The likelihood of someone using trails in North Carolina during the past twelve months, however, did vary somewhat depending on their age, education level, and income. The 30 to 39 year old age group was the most likely to have used a trail or greenway during the previous 12 months (Figure 8). The proportion of individuals using trails or greenways dropped as

graph showing that 32% of North Carolinians used trails in the last 12 months.
Figure 7. Proportion of North Carolinians Who Used Trails in Last 12 Months.

age increased with the exception of the 18 to 29 year old group which was less likely to have used trails than their 30 to 39 year old counterparts. Those 70 or older were the least likely to have used a trail or greenway in that period. The likelihood of using trails or greenways increased steadily with increases in education level, however. Almost half (48%) of those individuals who attended graduate school reported using a trail or greenway over the previous 12 months while only 10% of those who had not graduated from high school had done so. The proportion of people using trails generally increased as household income increased, although use dropped off among those with the highest incomes. Households earning $75,000 to $99,999 were the most likely to have used trails over the last 12 months (42%).graph showing that persons with higher education are as much as 5 times more likely to use trails.

graph showing that generally the higher the income a person has, the more likely they are to use a trail.

Overall, respondents had used more unsurfaced trails during the past 12 months than surfaced ones, but relatively few of either. On average they had used 2.4 different unsurfaced trails and 1.5 different surfaced trails (Table 1). There was a wide range of responses however. The most unsurfaced trails used by any respondent was 50 and the most surfaced trails was 30. On average, respondents reported that there were more adult trail users in their households than users under 18 years old (Table 2).

Table 1: Number of Different Trails Used in the Past 12 Months
Types of Trails Mean # of Trails Used Weighted Mean Standard Deviation n

Unsurfaced Trail

2.4

2.3

4.4

458

Surfaced Trail

1.5

1.4

2.8

456

Notes. Weighted means and weighted percents are reported for many of the results obtained from questions in the mail questionnaires. Weighted results have been statistically adjusted to reflect the actual proportions of the following three groups found in the telephone interviews: trail users, nonusers who did not want to use trails, and nonusers who wanted to use trails but were unable to for some reason. See Constraints to Trail Use section for more information on these groups.

 

Table 2: Number of Trail Users in Household by Age Group in the above study.
Age Group Mean # of Users in Household Weighted Mean Standard Deviation n

18 years and Older

1.8

1.8

1.3

457

Under 18 years old

0.6

0.5

0.9

453

An overall annual participation rate, consisting of the average number of trips per person during the previous 12 months was generated for each trail activity. These participation rates reflect the entire sample rather than just trail users and are arranged in Table 3 from the activity most frequently participated in to the least overall. Walking for pleasure was by far the trail activity participated in most frequently with an average of 7.62 trips in past 12 months per person. This was over three times the rates for the next two most frequently occurring activities - jogging/running (2.38) and hiking (2.21), respectively. Driving four wheel drive vehicles (0.47) was the most frequently occurring motorized trail activity and canoeing (0.26) was the most frequently occurring water trail activity. Jogging/running and in-line skating were the only two activities where participation rates were higher on surfaced trails than unsurfaced trails.

Table 3: Overall Annual Participation Rates by Activity and Trail Type (n = 2025)
Activity Type

Unsurfaced Trails

Mean Trips

Unsurfaced Trails

Standard Deviation

Surfaced Trails

Mean Trips

Surfaced Trails

Standard Deviation

Overall Participation Rate

Mean
Trips

Overall Participation Rate

Standard Deviation

Walking for Pleasure

3.91

24.7

3.71

22.6

7.62

36.2

Jogging/Running

0.85

13.0

1.52

16.6

2.38

22.7

Hiking

1.52

11.2

0.69

7.1

2.21

15.9

Biking

0.91

9.5

0.86

8.2

1.78

14.2

Horseback Riding

0.58

10.6

0.07

1.7

0.66

11.0

Four Wheel Driving

0.43

6.8

0.04

0.9

0.47

6.9

Backpacking

0.28

3.7

0.12

3.4

0.40

6.9

Canoeing

0.131

1.61

0.132

2.62

0.26

3.1

All Terrain Vehicles

0.17

2.6

0.03

0.7

0.20

2.7

Motorcycling

0.11

1.8

0.01

0.3

0.12

1.9

Kayaking

0.061

1.21

0.032

0.92

0.09

2.0

In-Line Skating

0.02

0.5

0.07

1.4

0.09

1.6

Cross Country Skiing

0.013

0.13

0.014

0.54

0.02

0.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. 68% of the population will be within + one standard deviation of the mean and 95% of the population will be within + two standard deviations of the mean.
1 For the purposes of this activity this category is Rivers or Streams.
2 For the purposes of this activity this category is Lakes or Reservoirs.
3 For the purposes of this activity this category is "Groomed Trails."
4 For the purposes of this activity this category is "Ungroomed Trails."

In addition to examining the number of trips taken by activity type, the percent of the sample which engaged in each activity type at least once during the past 12 months was determined. Table 4 presents these findings overall and for surfaced and unsurfaced trails separately. More North Carolinians walked for pleasure than engaged in any other trail activity. Nearly a quarter (23.7%) went walking for pleasure on a trail or greenway during the past 12 months. Hiking (16.9%) was the next most popular activity followed by biking (7.3%). Two other activities were engaged in by more than four percent of the population -- jogging/running (4.5%) and backpacking (4.4%). Canoeing was the most popular water trail activity with 3.6% participating and driving four-wheel-drive vehicles was the most popular motorized trail activity with 2.3% engaging in that activity on trails. Only three activities were engaged in by a larger proportion of people on surfaced trails than on unsurfaced ones. These were biking, jogging/running, and in-line skating.

Table 4: Percent of Individuals who Participated in Each Activity by Trail Type (n = 2025)
Actiity Type Percent on Unsurfaced Trails Percent on Surfaced Trails Overall Percent Participating

Walking for Pleasure

17.6

12.3

23.7

Hiking

15.4

5.5

16.9

Biking

4.6

4.8

7.3

Jogging/Running

2.5

2.9

4.5

Backpacking

4.2

1.1

4.4

Canoeing

2.5

1.6

3.6

Four Wheel Drives

2.3

0.4

2.3

Horsebackriding

1.5

0.3

1.5

All Terrain Vehicles

1.0

0.5

1.3

Kayaking

0.6

0.4

0.8

In-Line Skating

0.2

0.7

0.8

Motorcycles

0.6

0.2

0.6

Cross Country Skiing

0.3

0.3

0.6

Constraints to Trail Use

Over two-thirds (68%) of those interviewed said they had not used a trail or greenway in NC during the past 12 months. When these nonusers were asked during their interviews to briefly describe why not, the most common type of response was not having enough time. Nearly one third (31%) indicated that this was why they had not used trails (Table 1). A general dislike for the outdoors was the next most common reason and was reported by 28% of those interviewed followed by problems associated with health, age, or ability (18%). These three types of reasons combined were given by over three quarters of the nonusers. The remaining reasons related to using trails elsewhere, inconvenience, lack of information, and safety concerns.

Reasons Nonusers Had Not Used Trails in North Carolina During the Past 12 Months1
Reasons Frequency Percent

Not enough time

432

31

Do not care for outdoors/ No interest

388

28

Disabled/Age/Ability

248

18

Combination of factors

104

7

Walk other places

63

5

None convenient

60

4

New to area

37

3

Don't know where trails are located

25

2

Not safe

12

1

Other2

9

1

TOTAL

1378

100%
1 Up to two responses were included for each completed survey.
2 "Other" category is made up of answers with less than one percent response (eg., Nobody to go with; No transportation, Closed to certain activities, and Do not know).

In addition to the above examination of why some respondents had not used trails at all, the study also explored whether people were able to use trails as frequently as they liked. All interviewees were asked if they had wanted to use trails more than they had during the past 12 months. Regardless of their actual level of use, 22% reported that their trail use was constrained in some way (i.e., they wanted to use trails more than they had during the past 12 months, but were unable to for some reason). By comparing responses to this question with the one regarding whether respondents had used trails at all during the past 12 months, it was possible to divide the sample into the following three distinct groups: trail users, nonusers (nonusers who did not want to use trails), and "reluctant nonusers" (nonusers who wanted to use trails but were unable to for some reason). A total of 54% of respondents indicated that they were either users or wanted to be users of trails and greenways in NC during the past 12 months (Figure 11). Note that these are the percents used in computing the weighted means and weighted percents reported in many of the tables.

Those who reported using trails less than they had wanted to were provided with a list of 12 potential reasons and asked to indicate which ones were ever problems that kept them from using trails in NC during the past 12 months. Of these, lack of time was by far the most common constraint. Three-quarters indicated that lack of time was a reason for not using trails as often as they would have liked (Table 6). Not enough information about trails and no trails close to home were listed as constraints by at least one third of the respondents. The remainder of the potential constraints were identified as problems by 19% or fewer of the constrained respondents.

Table 6: Reasons Respondents did Not Use Trails as Often as Desired During the Past 12 Months (n = 886)
Contraint No Yes Don't Know

Not Enough Time

25%

75%

0%

Not Enough Information About Trails

63

36

1

No Trails Close to Home

67

33

0

No One to Go With

81

19

0

Personal Health Concerns

86

14

0

Trails Do Not Seem Safe

85

14

1

Not Enough Money

87

13

0

Trails are Poorly Maintained

88

11

1

Transportation to a Trail is Difficult

91

9

0

Nearby Trails are Too Strenuous

93

7

0

Trails are Over-Crowded

91

7

2

No Access to Equipment Needed (Kayak, Bike, Skates)

93

7

0

Trail Awareness, Availability and Information Sources

Respondents' awareness of the existing types of trails in the state varied widely. The vast majority were aware of surfaced and unsurfaced trails and over three-quarters knew of national scenic, historic or recreation trails. Only about half were aware of trails for mountain bicycles, however. The least recognized type of trail was rail-trails (trails built on abandoned railroad corridors) (Table 7).

Table 7: Proportion Who Were Aware of Various Types of Trails in North Carolina
Type of Trail Frequency Percent Weighted Percent n

Unsurfaced Trails

424

92.6

91.5

458

Surfaced Trails

403

88.0

87.0

458

National Scenic, Historic, or Recreational Trails

358

78.2

77.2

458

Trails for Mountain Bicycles

244

53.3

52.4

458

Greenway Trails

190

41.5

41.3

457

Designated Water Trails

171

37.3

36.7

458

Off Highway Vehicle (Motorized) Trails

117

25.6

24.9

458

The N.C. "Mountains to the Sea Trail"

116

25.3

24.9

458

Rail-Trails

62

13.5

13.1

458


North Carolinians obtained their trail information from many sources, but friends were the source for the majority (Table 8). Over 60% indicated that their friends were one of their sources. Nearly 40% used signs at trail access points, magazine articles, or news articles. The internet was the source listed by the fewest respondents. When asked which sources they preferred to use to obtain information about trails in NC the most common responses were trail brochures, the internet/WWW, and park and recreation offices (Table 9). Overall, respondents reported that they would have to travel a considerable distance to access the nearest trails. Average one-way distances to the nearest surfaced and unsurfaced trails were 21 and 23 miles, respectively (Table 10).

 

Table 8: Proportion Who Used Various Sources of Information about Trails in North Carolina
Source of Information Frequency Percent Weighted Percent n

Friends

288

63.2

60.9

456

Signs at Trail Access Points

180

39.6

38.0

455

Magazine Stories/Articles

178

39.1

39.2

455

News Paper Stories/Articles

177

38.9

38.8

455

Previous Experience with Area

164

36.0

33.8

455

Family

114

31.7

30.7

455

Park and Recreation Office

133

29.2

28.7

455

Trail Brochures

125

27.6

26.6

453

Relatives

122

26.8

25.8

455

State Highway Map

106

23.3

22.8

455

National Park Service.

106

23.3

22.1

455

State Tourism Office

59

13.0

12.4

455

First published online 1999

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