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Results of Colorado Statewide Public Survey on Attitudes toward Trails

By Peggy Cuciti, Norwest Public Opinion Research Program (August 2001)

Map of Colorado

In support of a strategic planning effort being undertaken by the State Trails Committee and Trails Program in the State Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, the Centers at the University of Colorado at Denver, working in cooperation with the Norwest Public Opinion Research Program, completed a survey with 600 registered voters in the state of Colorado. Methods are described in Appendix A along with a full copy of the survey and detailed frequencies for each question asked.

The survey was designed to develop a better understanding of:

  • the value placed on trails and related outdoor activities as it relates to the quality of life available in the state;
  • the frequency with which different types of trails are used;
  • the reasons for trail use;
  • problems encountered on trails;
  • the public's view on the degree to which trail uses conflict with each other or the environment;
  • resource allocation priorities.

Importance of Trail and Other Outdoor Activities to Quality of Life

Given the state's varied terrain, beautiful scenery and favorable weather, it is not surprising that outdoor activities are important to Coloradans' quality of life. Almost three quarters of residents statewide believe outdoor activities are important. Using a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is not at all important and 10 is very important, the mean score was 8.1. Almost one third of respondents chose a rating of "10."

Trails are critical to the enjoyment of outdoor activities. When asked to consider the importance of sixteen different types of outdoor activities to their quality of life, only two were rated "very important" by 50% or more of the public: "walking or hiking" and "camping". Both of these are trail-related. Furthermore, five of the eight top-rated activities involve the use of trails: walking/hiking; camping; hunting/ fishing/ bicycling, and backpacking. Each of these activities are very important to over 30% of the population. The other important outdoor activities are water sports such as swimming, water skiing, boating or rafting; team sports such as soccer or baseball and downhill skiing.

However important they may be to enthusiasts, it is equally important to note that certain types of trail activities are unimportant for a majority of the public. Fifty percent or more gave a rating of 1, 2 or 3 (indicating a low level of importance to quality of life) to the following: snowmobiling (74%), motorbiking, ATV riding or other motorized use (68%), roller-blading, skating or skateboarding (58%), horseback riding (53%) and four wheel driving (50%).

Figure 1 shows the proportion of the public reporting an activity to be very important (a rating of 8,9 or 10) or unimportant (rating of 1, 2 or 3) on questions 2 through 16 of the survey.

Favorite Trail Activities

Later in the survey when questions had been asked introducing them to the range of different types of trails, the public was asked to tell their one or two favorite trail activities. The responses to this open-ended question are consistent with those reported in the quality of life section.

The most popular trail-related activities are:

  • walking, (mentioned by 40% of respondents);
  • hiking, (mentioned by 36% of respondents);
  • bicycling, (mentioned by 29%);

Other less-frequently reported activities include:

  • running (11%),
  • skiing, snowshoeing or snow-boarding (9%);
  • fishing or hunting (9%),
  • camping or backpacking (8%),
  • sightseeing (4%),
  • inline-skating or skateboarding (4%),
  • four wheeling or motorcycling (4%), and
  • horseback riding (3%).

Reasons for Using Trails

People use trails for many different reasons. Several possible reasons were listed in the survey (q28-35) and respondents were asked to rate the importance of each using a scale of 1 to 10.

The most important reasons for using trails are:

  • to see beautiful scenery
  • to enjoy nature
  • to have fun with family or friends

Each of these reasons was rated an 8,9, or 10 by three quarters or more of respondents.

Also important are: to get exercise and maintain health; and to see wildlife. These reasons were mentioned by 60% or more of respondents.

Trails are infrequently used as a means of transportation in daily life. Only 8% reported that an important reason for using trails is "to get to work or other places I need to go."

Importance of Different Types of Trails

There are many different types and setting for trails. Three categories of trails were described in the survey:

  • Local Community Trails: trails inside towns and cities, usually in parks, along waterways or along major roadways.

  • Regional Trail: improved pathways with hard surfaces running along rivers or greenways, not in a town or city but often connecting them.

  • -- Back Country Trails: usually with unimproved surfaces.

When asked to rate the importance of each type of trail to their quality of life, respondents gave the highest ratings to local community trails. Fully 78% said these trails were important (rating of 8, 9, or 10); indeed 43% gave the highest rating of 10.

About two thirds of the public said both regional and back-country trails are important. Slightly more of the public reported back country trails were unimportant, compared to regional trails..

Frequency of Trail Use

The importance assigned local trails probably stems from the high frequency of use. Fully one third (34%) of the public reported that they or a family member use local trails at least 50 times in a typical year and another 25% said they use them 20 to 49 times per year. Only 8% said they never use local trails.

Not surprisingly, other types of trails are used less often. But frequency of use is still quite high. About one third of the public reports using trails located in a Colorado town or city not near where they live or work at least 20 times per year. These are the trails they might use when vacationing or traveling or in communities where they maintain second homes.

Back country trails are used 20 times or more in a typical year by 32% of the public. Improved pathways connecting towns or cities receive slightly less use. Twenty six percent (26%) report they use such trails 20 or more times per year. Fully 21% say they never use them.

Only four percent of respondents report never using trails of any sort. Taking into account all types of trails and doing a conservative estimate, it appears that the typical Colorado household uses trails 78 times a year. One quarter of the population uses them at least 118 times per year.

Almost two thirds (65%) report using all four categories of trails at least once in a typical year. Ten percent report using each of the four types of trails on a frequent basis (more than 20 times) yearly.

Trail use is likely to increase in coming years. Fully 45% of respondents anticipate using trails more often in the next couple of years than they do now. Half say they will use trails about the same amount. Only 4% expect to decrease their use of trails.

Satisfaction with Trails: Quantity and Quality

In general, trail users are satisfied with the quantity and quality of trails for doing their favorite activities. Respondents were given the opportunity to assess trails from the perspective of different types of use. In other words, they could assess the adequacy of trail systems for hiking and for mountain biking, if these were their two favorite activities.

Quantity of Trails

Fifty six percent of respondents say they are "very satisfied" with the number of trails available to them for doing their favorite activities. An additional 38% are somewhat satisfied.

Some differences in satisfaction emerge depending on the type of trail activity. Those who assessed trails from the perspective of hiking were more likely to be satisfied than those who said their favorite activity was walking. Fully 64% of hikers said they were very satisfied with the quantity of trails compared to only 50% of walkers. The highest levels of satisfaction are found among those who reported that their favorite activities were camping (64%); or skiing, snow-shoeing and snow-boarding (69%). Bicyclists were somewhat less happy: 51% reported they are "very satisfied" with the quantity of trails available. Fifty four percent of those who like to hunt or fish are "very satisfied" with the quantity of trails. (See table...) Generally those who are not "very satisfied" are "somewhat satisfied." Between 4 and 8%, depending on activity type, report any level of dissatisfaction with the quantity of trails available to them.

Quality of Trails

Coloradans are also quite satisfied with the quality of trails in the state. Reflecting on trails suitable for their favorite activity, 58% report being "very satisfied" and 37% are "somewhat satisfied." Again levels of satisfaction differ depending on the activity under consideration. Higher levels of satisfaction are reported by hikers (69% very satisfied), hunters and fishermen (60%), and skiers (65%). Bicyclists, walkers and campers are somewhat less likely to report being very satisfied.

Somewhat higher proportions report "dissatisfaction" regarding quality than quantity. Among those who assessed the quality of trails suitable for hunting or fishing, fully 17% expressed some level of dissatisfaction. Nine percent of those doing self propelled snow activities were dissatisfied as were 7% of bicyclists.

Satisfaction with Local Community Trails

It should be noted that the public is less satisfied with the trails in the town or city where they live than they are with the trails they use for doing their favorite activities. When asked to rate local community trails (q.22), only 43% said they were very satisfied and an additional 40% said they were somewhat satisfied. Problems Arising in Use

Only 15% of respondents reported that they had encountered any problems in using Colorado trails to do their favorite activities. When asked in an open-ended question format what types of problems they had encountered, the following four areas of concern emerge:

  • Access: 22% of those reporting problems complained about access to trails and 1% complained about maintenance closings..

  • Annoyance with Other Types of Uses: Nineteen percent described some type of other trail use which bothered them. The most frequently cited concern was dogs off leash, followed by mountain bikers, motorized uses and roller-blade/skateboarders.

  • Crowding: 17% said there were too many other users on the trail.

  • Some Aspect of the Trail or Trail System: 19% talked about some aspect of the trail. The most frequently cited concerns related to trail surface (9%) or signage (8%).

It is important to note that the most frequently cited problem— i.e. access— is still a relatively rare occurrence. It was reported by less than 4% of all respondents.

Use Conflicts

Since land managers hear frequent complaints about incompatible uses on trails, the survey asked a question (q. 40) designed to get at whether there are specific types of uses that interfere with peoples' enjoyment of trails. Almost two thirds (63%) indicated that this was not an issue for them. However, 37% said there were other uses that were problematic from their perspective. These uses include:

  • Motorized Vehicles. (Mentioned by 31% of those reporting a concern about use conflicts)

  • Mountain Bikes: (Mentioned by 15%)

  • Animals: 11% mentioned dogs off leash, 1% objected to horses and 4% identified animal droppings.

  • Inline-skaters/Skateboarders. These were mentioned by 6%.

An additional 7% spoke of "too much mixed use" without giving specifics regarding incompatible uses. Six percent gave a response that had to do with levels of use rather than types of use. Sixteen percent spoke about behaviors that bothered them that weren't particular to types of use including general discourtesy, partying, people with headphones, smoking, littering, graffiti or vandalism.

One solution for dealing with use conflicts is to designate trails for specific uses. The public generally supports the idea but there is a mix of opinions. Thirty two percent strongly agree with the statement "It would be good to designate trails for specific uses rather than have trails be open to all uses. (Q. 46) Another thirty five percent "somewhat agree." One third of the public doesn't like the idea of single use trails as indicated by 20% "somewhat disagreeing" with the statement and 12% "strongly disagreeing."

Impacts on the Environment

Trail uses may also impose negative impacts on the environment. Concerns have been raised regarding effects on plants and animals as well as on air and water quality. Some of the effects may stem from use generally, some from specific types of uses, and some from misuses.

The public was asked (q. 41) whether they think there are trail uses that hurt the environment. A majority (54%) said no but 44% said yes. Respondents who indicated that trail uses can have negative effects were then asked in an open-ended question format about the uses that concern them.

Among those with concerns, 57% mentioned motorized trail uses including ATVs, motor bikes and snowmobiles. Eight percent mentioned mountain bikes. Six percent talked about levels of use rather than types of use. Seven percent indicated concern about use "off trails" and shortcuts bypassing switchbacks on mountain trails. An additional 3% mentioned erosion. Fully 10% are concerned about littering.

The public wants the interests of the environment recognized and protected in land managers' choices regarding trails. Sixty nine percent (69%) strongly agreed that they "would support limits on trail use if natural habitat is being damaged." (Q. 44) Only 8% indicated any level of disagreement with the statement. Furthermore as will be discussed in the next section of this report, the public believes "better protection of natural features and wildlife habit" should be the highest priority when resources are allocated. (Q.53)

Resource Allocation Priorities

The survey asked respondents to consider how much of a priority various items should be when resources for trails and for state parks are allocated. Items are ranked based on the percentage of the public giving an item a high priority rating, that is, a rating of 8, 9 or 10 on a ten point scale.

The public's highest priorities are the following, as evidenced by 60% or more of respondents giving each a high priority rating.

  • Better protection of natural features and wildlife habitat;
  • Maintaining or rebuilding existing trails;
  • Improving access to trails for persons with disabilities;
  • Expanding opportunities for youth to participate in outdoor activities;
  • Developing bike trails along rural roads that now receive heavy bike use.
  • Developing trails and programs that offer education regarding plants, animals and/or local history.

The following items are a high priority for at least half the public:

  • Better trail information, including signs, trail markings and maps;
  • Acquiring land for future parks or trail systems;
  • Connecting trails into systems.

The public believes that lesser priority should be granted to developing facilities at trailheads, developing or improving recreational facilities within state parks; developing new trails or increasing access points to rivers or lakes. The public is least inclined to give priority to more amenities at campsites or developing a system of back country campsites, huts or inns along major trails inaccessible by road.

It is important to note that the public was generally supportive of all of the investment areas described. Only relatively small percentages of the public gave any of the items a 1,2 or 3 on the priority rating scheme, suggesting there is little opposition to any of the spending ideas tested.


The survey included several additional items designed to get the public's reaction to specific thoughts or ideas that have been raised in the strategic planning process. For each of several statements, respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement.

  • Most of the public believes that "there are enough trails within a reasonable drive from my home." (Q. 42) Forty six percent strongly agreed and an additional 40% somewhat agreed. When asked which statement best describes the trails in the town or city where they live (q. 21), two thirds chose the option which read "there is an extensive system of well developed trails." One third said "there are relatively few trails."

  • Ninety percent agree that "open space acquisitions should make provisions for trail development whenever possible." For 49%, the level of agreement is "strong."

  • There is some support for imposing fees for trail use, so long as the money is used to develop or manage trails. Over three quarters agreed with the statement; for 39% the level of agreement is strong.

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