Trail research: What do we have, where is it, what is missing?
Trail managers, users, and researchers met at the 2004 National Trails Symposium for a session on Trails Research.
John Pugh and Roger Moore
Trails and greenways provide a myriad of benefits to both individual users and society as a whole. Each year thousands of volunteers build and maintain trails, and millions of others enjoy using our trail and greenway system. Researchers study various aspects of trail and greenway use and users to provide information to managers and agencies. Given limited resources, research is most effective when carefully targeted and coordinated.
Over 60 people at the Symposium discussed the future of trail research and what research topics should be addressed. The purpose of the session was to give an overview of current research, provide resources for accessing existing research, and look to the future needs for trail research. Session participants were a mix of trail researchers, practitioners, and trail advocates.
Roger Moore began the session with an overview of the major areas of trail research. Hugh Morris gave specifics on the research that is currently being conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and John Pugh delivered a presentation on accessing and managing the available information. Stuart Macdonald moderated a group discussion on what is most needed for future trail research.
The open discussion of future research needs generated a large number of suggested topics for study.
The 53 suggestions were recorded and later categorized. The five categories and number of responses in each area follow, and are then briefly discussed.
This category dealt primarily with on-the-ground issues involving trails. Responses in this category included trail maintenance issues and costs, GIS information (gathering and sharing), design and construction guidelines, and ecological impacts of linear corridors. Additional issues are related to measuring the interconnectivity of trails to other uses, and the effects of trail use and density on wildlife.
These comments centered on the measurement of trail use and the standardization of national research standards related to trail use. This "Gold Standard"
Dr. Michael Schuett conducted a study in 2001 that suggested these top ten research needs related to trails. See Schuett, M. A., Seister, Patricia. (2001). "Trails Research: Where do we go from here?" In Proceedings of the 2001 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, 333-335.
This session resulted in a number of salient issues to be considered for further research. Getting researchers, trail advocates, and potential funding sources together to focus on the most pressing research issues is vitally important to advance our trail networks and the many benefits they produce.
We welcome any input on ideas for research, but we would especially like to hear from anyone doing research in the field of trails and greenways. We also are eager to make your work available on our website at www.AmericanTrails.org. If you have a study, paper, thesis, or other material you'd like to see on the Internet, contact Stuart Macdonald, webmaster, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Existing Sources of trail-related Research
Visit www.AmericanTrails.org to find links to these online resources. Select "Bibliographies" from the pull-down "Select a Topic" menu. Click on the "Resources & Library" icon at the top of any page for links to more studies and research on a variety of trails issues.
Roger Moore, Associate Professor, North Carolina State Univ.
John Pugh, North Carolina State University
Stuart Macdonald, American Trails website and newsletter editor
March 2, 2005
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Updated September 25, 2008