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An understanding of the trail experience is critical to developing strategies for increasing trail use. It is also important to understand the barriers and factors that may prevent people from using trails.

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Five "Best Practices" for Increasing Trail Use by Walkers and Hikers

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Enhancing the Trail experience with maps, information, and art
on the Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania

In the absence of evidence-based and measurable outcomes with a scientific method of evaluating those outcomes, an attempt has been made to identify “best practices” that have been effective in increasing walking and hiking and pedestrian trail use, based on the collective experience of professionals and volunteers working in this field. The “case studies”, which were provided in response to the interviews and research, are contained in Appendix One.
In data gathered for this project, five “Best Practices” emerged as essential for increasing trail use by walkers and hikers in Ontario:

The Five Best Practices

1. Collaborate

It is important to recognize that in order to increase trail use by walkers and hikers, it is necessary to form successful and appropriate partnerships. This is especially important when attempting to target non-traditional demographics. Trails, their use and their management heavily rely on successful collaborative efforts for maintenance, growth and the provision of quality experiences.

a) Trail Planning, Development and Management

b) Dialogue with Partners and Trail Users

c) Develop Strong Linkages & Partnerships Across Various Sectors

d) Develop Collaborative Strategies

2. Enhance the Trail Experience

To best increase the use of trails, you must ensure that the trail experience itself is a quality one. Enhancing the trail experience is needed to encourage repeat use and continued safe, appropriate use. There are many tools and strategies that can lead to establishing the best practice of enhancing the trail experience. The ideal trail experience involves three fundamental elements:

a) Great Trails

b) Great Activities

c) Great Trail Users

3. Target Specific Population Groups

If looking to increase trail use for walkers and hikers, it is important to focus a variety of trail based experiences and promotions on non-traditional users. Targeting specific audiences can help address the needs of a population not familiar to trail use and help to build a broader trail community, including older adults; children and youth; women and girls; low-income families; people with disabilities; and visible minorities.

It is important to plan and develop activities that will motivate these groups to use trails. It must be recognized that what seems like an easy outing to a seasoned walker or hiker may be a major challenge for the novice. A five kilometer walk in non-urban area on an uneven trail may be very challenging for a person who has never ventured onto a trail, or has no idea of the distance he or she can walk comfortably. To plan enjoyable and safe trail activities for the novice, an understanding of the demographics, culture, needs and desires of each identified target group is essential.

a) Older adults

b) Children & youth

c) Girls & women

d) Low income families

e) People with disabilities

f) Visible minorities

4. Market the Experience

Great trails and great trail activities must be promoted to achieve the desired goal of increased trail use. It is important, however, to make the distinction between information promoting the trail and the detailed information required to get people to and around the trail in safety. Potential users must be made aware of what trails and activities exist, and must be provided with the necessary information to use the trail and/or participate in the activity. Both marketing and information tools, however, can include brochures, maps, signage, trail guides, web sites, e-navigate communications, branding, advertising, media coverage and special incentives.

a) Develop and commit to a public relations plan

b) Brand your trail or experience

c) Provide clear and accurate trail information

d) Create a website providing easy access to current information and virtual experiences

e) Establish mutually beneficial marketing relationships

f) Make friends with the media

5. Evaluate and Modify the Program

Measuring your performance is crucial to future or continued success. To truly increase trail use amongst hikers and walkers, there must be a measurability to the trail experience itself; a means of understanding successes and possible alternatives. This evaluative process is an integral practice in ongoing trail use growth and diversification. The evaluative process can address changes needed, opportunities unforeseen and measure success.

a) Develop measurable indicators of success

b) Evaluate

c) Analyze the results

d) Modify programs to overcome barriers and achieve objectives

 

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