Indiana Trails Study: A Study of Trails in Six Indiana Cities

From Eppley Institute for Parks & Public Lands and Center for Urban Policy & the Environment

The six study trail sites were selected to reflect differing community populations, geographic locations, trail development-funding methods, trail types and community types. The common parameter for trail selection was that the trail had to be operating for longer than two years.

Study Sites

The six communities and trails studied were:

  • Fort Wayne, Rivergreenway Trail
  • Goshen, Maple City Greenway Trail
  • Greenfield, Pennsy Rail Trail
  • Indianapolis, Monon Rail Trail
  • Muncie, Cardinal Greenway Trail
  • Portage, Prairie Duneland Trail

The trail neighbors

The Indiana Trails Study was designed to obtain attitudes and opinions from those property owners who lived adjacent to the trail, known as trail neighbors. It was determined early that the best method to survey the trail neighbors was a sample of all adjacent property owners as provided by the trail agency. Each agency was asked to provide a listing of trail neighbors from their city records so that all neighbors, as defined by the local trail agency, would receive the mail survey. Response rates from the trail cities ranged from 38% to 51% after follow-up mailings; with an average response rate

Trail effect on property

Trail neighbors reported a number of effects on their property based on the survey questions presented to them. A primary interest for most trail neighbors and agencies developing trails is the effect of trail development on property value and quality of life for the neighbors. A very large percentage of trail neighbors viewed trail development as having either no effect or a positive effect on their property's value and on the salability of their property. Specifically 86% to 95% of trail neighbors indicated they felt the trail had either no effect or a positive effect on their property value. Coupled with trail neighbor responses of between 81% and 93% indicating the trail had no negative effect or made it easier to sell their property, it is clear the majority of trail neighbors do not anticipate negative effects on the value and ease of selling their property.

Living near the trail

This survey item was asked of trail neighbors who had purchased their property before the trail was developed and allowed researchers to gauge changes to the quality of life for those residents living adjacent to the trail. Responding trail neighbors indicated that on an average 61% of trail neighbors in all 6 cities felt the trail was a better neighbor than expected. Trail neighbors reporting this perception ranged from 53% to 63%. Trail neighbors also indicated their belief that the trail improved the quality of the neighborhood. The percentage of neighbors who felt the trail improved the neighborhood ranged from 60% to 88% with an average of 69% of all trail neighbors across all 6-trail sites. Trail neighbors also indicated they were satisfied with the trail as a neighbor.

These two opinions of trail neighbors, who owned their property before the trail was developed, indicates that living near a trail would have a positive or neutral impact on quality of life in the neighborhood. Living near or adjacent to a trail can make it easy to use the trail. Trail neighbors were asked to document the amount of use and time of year during which they or members of their household may have used the trail. Overall, trail neighbor use ranged from a low of 1.43 to a high of 3.1 days per week. Seasonal trail use reflects the highest activity level in summer, lowest trail use in the winter, and moderately high use levels in spring and fall.

Between 70 and 95% of trail neighbors reported they used the trail. This information reinforces the emphasis that trail neighbors find trails to be relatively good neighbors and very convenient for members of their households.

Trail neighbor issues, dissatisfaction and opinions

The controversy that sometimes occurs when trails are proposed is often the direct result of trail neighbor fears and anticipated dissatisfaction with the trail. The Indiana Trails Study solicited trail neighbor attitudes and opinions with dissatisfaction factors and other issues related to living adjacent to one of the 6 trails studied. The highest dissatisfaction factor reported by trail neighbors in terms of percentage of responses (20% to 29% of responding neighbors) and frequency across all 6-trail cities is lack of safety patrols on the trails. The second most frequently reported dissatisfaction issue reported by trail neighbors was parking problems. This dissatisfaction was reported in 4 of the 6 trail cities (Goshen, Indianapolis, Muncie and Portage) in percentages ranging from 15% to 25% of trail neighbors. Additional dissatisfaction factors were reported that included a lack of maintenance on the trail, and agency responsiveness to problems.

With the exception of trail neighbors adjacent to the Pennsy Rail Trail in Greenfield (all commercial property uses), trail neighbors consistently ranked the public benefits of providing open space, providing public recreation, health and fitness opportunity, community pride, aesthetic beauty, and disabled access as extremely important in percentage responses ranging from 33% to 58%. The ratings are not consistent among public benefits, rank order or percentage of neighbors rating the benefit as extremely important, but are notable for the large percentage of trail neighbors having extremely supportive views on the general public benefits of trails.

Of course, trail neighbors do experience incidents or activities that lead to negative perceptions. These problems are thought to occur frequently on adjacent properties, creating issues of concern for trail neighbors. While it is generally known that trail neighbors feel a relative lack of privacy, specific problems are often not quantified. Indiana Trails Study trail neighbors were asked to indicate the most common problems they experienced.

The most commonly reported problem, illegal vehicle use, relates to use of motorized vehicles on trail right of way and is most frequent in 5 of the 6 trail sites surveyed. The next most commonly reported problem, unleashed pets roaming along trails, was also common to 5 of the 6 trail sites surveyed. Other frequently reported problems included litter from trail users, and excessive noise, which were reported in 2 of the 6 trail cities. Only Greenfield's Pennsy Rail Trail neighbors (commercial property) reported burglary as a frequent problem.

Trail neighbor findings

The survey of trail neighbors in the Indiana Trails Study provides valuable and important data regarding trail neighbor opinion, attitude and issues for future trail development and management. The survey indicates that:

  • A majority of trail neighbors reported either no effect or a positive effect on property value and ease of selling property located adjacent to the trail
  • The trail was felt to be a better neighbor than expected and to improve the quality of the neighborhood by a large majority of trail neighbors
  • Trail neighbors are heavy users of the trail itself, reporting, on average, 2-3 days of trail use
  • Over 70%, and as much as 95% of all trail neighbors reported using the trail during the prior 12 months
  • Trail neighbors are most dissatisfied with a lack of safety patrols and parking problems in the vicinity of their property
  • Those trail neighbors responding to the survey indicated illegal vehicle use and unleashed pets roaming along the trail are the most common problems

Realtor conversations

The Indiana Trails Study originally designed a focus group research protocol with local realtors in each city as a means of measuring trail impacts on real estate. After poor attendance at focus groups, and to reduce time and data collection costs, a change was made in research methodology to conduct individual telephone interviews of realtors in each city. The individual telephone interviews were conducted between November and December 2000 with at least 10 realtors in each community. The results of this qualitative research were recorded for analysis April 15, 2007emerging trends from all six trail cities included:

  • The biggest advantages to trail development adjacent to personal property was easy, close to home access to recreational facilities for families with children
  • Realtors did not see any major increases in property value, or ease in property sale as a result of trail development
  • The biggest disadvantages to trail development adjacent to personal property were a decrease in privacy and an increase in foot traffic near the homeowner yards


A review of the Trail Summary Data Tables in Appendix A reveals there is a significant amount of similarity between the users and neighbors of all the trails studied in this project. In fact, it is difficult to find differences in use patterns, trail user demographics and attitudes and trail neighbor opinions and interests between the various trails. This consistency between trail use, trail users and trail neighbors in cities throughout different geographic regions of the State is remarkable. Further conclusions from the Indiana Trails Study are divided into two general areas; those dealing with trail users and those dealing with trail neighbors as follows:

Trail Users were found to use the trail mostly after work and during the weekend. They primarily use the trail for fitness and exercise for a 1/2-hour or more. Trail users were found to mostly use the trail for walking and biking, although smaller percentages of users did use the trail to run and skate. The Study found that most trail users were from upper-middle class income households, college educated and between 26 and 55 years old. The Study found that most trail users lived within 2 miles of the trail, mostly drive to the trail and were highly satisfied with the trail.

Trail Neighbors were found to be regular trail users. The trail neighbors also indicated they were largely satisfied with the subject trail as a neighbor, and that the trail had no effect or a positive impact on their property values. The Study found that trail neighbors are more concerned with problems relating to illegal vehicle use, parking and noise (privacy issue), than litter or maintenance problems.


The Indiana Trails Study was remarkable in the amount of information it obtained. The breadth of questions in the Study sacrificed the gathering of details, instead opting to create preliminary or reconnaissance level information regarding trail preferences and operational issues from trail users and neighbors. This information should be advanced with further research focusing on trail planning and management preferences, privacy, accessibility, crossing preferences and relations to amenities and open space. While further development of trail planning, neighbor privacy, user accessibility, open space and amenity preferences, and other design and management factors should be conducted with sponsoring agency support, it is clear that some preliminary recommendations regarding these issues can be made.

Recommendation 1: Trail planning and development agencies should include all trail neighbors and users in planning and recommendation meetings. It is further recommended, that summaries of this trail report be used early in any trail planning process to inform and educate trail neighbors, trail users and agency personnel as to the potential issues and facts about trail use.

In many ways, the Indiana Trails Study confirmed what is already understood about trail development, and has been found in other trail developments across the country. First, it is obvious that the key constituencies in trail development will be trail users and neighbors. The carefully planned involvement of trail neighbors and users in public trail planning and development decisions seems like a logical and appropriate choice. Yet, some agencies have been observed not including these key constituents in planning.

Recommendation 2: Planning for trail development should be expanded beyond physical improvements and financing to consider a) the creation of trail neighbor privacy enhancements such as landscaping, b) operational improvements including safety patrols, c) volunteer litter pickup groups, d) addition of signage and monitoring requiring pets to be leashed, e) peak hour demand design in trail width and parking area size, f) funding linkages of trail operation and construction costs to health and wellness organizations such as local hospitals, and g) implementation of annual use fees to fund safety patrols, and other trail operation or maintenance costs.

Recommendation 3: Trail managers should strongly consider developing staffing and safety patrol scheduling schemes, or arrange for volunteer EMT or paramedic patrols that reflect peak trail use patterns, allowing for high visibility and assistance during these times. Trail use patterns in the Indiana Trails Study show definite peak demand times for trail use. These peak demands are fairly predictable based on work and leisure schedules of the general populace and can be anticipated fairly easily by trail managers.

Recommendation 4: Trail planners should more aggressively support commuter use of trails by requiring requests for trail development funding to include an analysis and survey of potential commuting users, and any work-home nexus identified in the trail area.

Clearly, the Indiana Trails Study found that trail users relied heavily on driving and entry/exit to the trail at the same access point along the trail. With commuters representing a small number of trail users in the Indiana Trails Study, the potential is considered high for the development of enhancements and enticements to trail area employers to increase commuter effectiveness for trails in more densely developed areas.

Recommendation 5: Trail planners should more aggressively support visitor and tourist use of trails, and cooperate in planning for visitor access to the trails through inclusion of visitor serving attractions in route planning and trail development.

The unrealized potential of trails was identified in the Indiana Trails Study, as visitor user patterns were minimal. In comparison, other trails and trails studies have reported a high amount of visitor use of multi-purpose trails, and the ensuing economic impact of visitor expenditures in food/beverage, lodging and ancillary sectors of the local economy. This unrealized potential is considered significant as trails begin to connect between cities.

Recommendation 6: Trail developers and managers should pursue collaborative strategic partnerships with health and wellness service providers based on the Indiana Trails Study that users primarily use the trail for health and fitness.

Another example of unrealized potential from the Indiana Trails Study is found in the significant amount of trail users who reported that health/fitness purposes were their primary purpose for using the trail. With Indiana's ranking by the Center for Disease Control as one of the most obese states in the nation, and the potential societal cost benefits to Indiana of emphasizing cardiac and overall health, the benefits of local trail agency partnerships for trail planning, construction, enhancements and programs with health and wellness organizations are noteworthy. The potential positive impacts of this type of collaborative partnership are estimated to be exceptional.

Recommendation 7: Local trail management agencies and organizations should regularly conduct trail use research and conduct surveys to better understand trail use patterns, user concerns, and trails neighbor issues.

A key benefit of the Indiana Trails Study was the collection and documentation of Indiana trail use patterns, management operational facts, user opinions and neighbor concerns. In retrospect the information obtained represents "base line" research that is an important and effective tool for the pubic agencies managing trails and trail areas. Yet, some agencies do not conduct research in trail use and other factors relating to trail operations and management. An upfront minimum investment of $500- $2,000 (plus agency staff time) for infrared trail counter purchase and conducting mail surveys seems small in light of the positive information and trend issues this investment can create. It is apparent that collection of data of the type collected in the Indiana Trails Study is essential to documenting use levels and addressing concerns.

Recommendation 8: The Indiana Trails Study should be viewed as a reconnaissance level study that creates the opportunity for more detailed, longer-term, (i.e. one-year) study of additional trails.

Obviously the Indiana Trails Study found many similar conclusions about the 6 trails in the Study. While there are remarkable and very notable similarities between the trails, it should be noted that each trail area is still unique, and future trails areas will be unique. Trail planning agencies should be careful about assuming that trail user patterns, user opinions and neighbor attitudes will be similar to other trail sites. Use of the conclusions and data found in the Indiana Trails Study should be carefully generalized to reflect the broad findings as applied to these 6 specific sites. Additionally, the Indiana Trails Study was a "snapshot" of users over a limited time period of a few months in the summer and fall. This data is limited in many respects, and while it can be generalized to some extent, it is not as comprehensive or complete as it could be.

The Indiana Trails Study was conducted between June and November 2000 with the purpose of identifying information and trends on trail use, trail management and trail impacts. The Study was conducted in 6 Indiana cities on trail segments that were at least 2 years old and represented various populations and trail types. In conducting the Indiana Trails Study, trail users and trail neighbors were surveyed, trail use levels were monitored and local realtors were contacted regarding trails in the community. The research process involved significant cooperation from various state agencies including INDOT and IDNR, as well as the support and assistance of the National Park Service and the local agencies managing the 6 trails in the Study.

Attached document published November 2001

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