filed under: conservation


The Influence of Layout on Appalachian Trail Soil Loss, Widening, and Muddiness

Implications for sustainable trail design and management

This research investigates the influence of layout and design on the severity of trail degradation.

by Jeffrey Marion, Ph.D., Federal Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey, Jeremy Wimpey, Ph.D., Principal, Applied Trails Research


Meadema et al AT Trail Impact Modeling 2019


Previous trail studies have been restricted by relatively small study areas which provide a limited range of environmental conditions and therefore produce findings with limited applicability; this research improves on this limitation by analyzing a representative sample of the Appalachian Trail with significant topographical, ecological, use- related, and managerial diversity. Many trail science studies have also focused on a singular form of trail degradation, whereas this study investigates all three core types of trail impact: trail soil loss, widening and muddiness. Relational analyses with all three indicators provide a more cohesive understanding of trail impact and reveal interrelationships between trail degradation processes. ANOVA testing of the mean values for these trail impact indicators across categories of influential independent factors confirms and refines the relevance of core trail design principles, specifically the sustainability advantages of trails with low grades and side-hill alignments. Findings also reveal and clarify the importance of landform grade in determining the susceptibil- ity of trails to degradation and the influence of routing decisions; these relationships have received relatively little attention in the literature. The results also reveal several methodological considerations for trail alignment metrics and trail impact indicators.

Published December 2019

About the Authors

Jeff Marion is a Federal Scientist with the US Geological Survey, and is based out of Virginia Tech as an Adjunct Professor. His research specialty is Recreation Ecology, in which he investigates the environmental impacts of visitor use in protected natural areas, primarily national parks. His research has focused on visitor impacts to trails and campsites and the development of sustainable “Best Management Practices.” He was a founding member of the Leave No Trace Board of Directors, chaired the committee that guided development of the Leave No Trace principles and practices, and authored the LNT Center’s official book “Leave No Trace in the Outdoors.”

Contact: [email protected]

Jeremy Wimpey, PhD. is one of the country’s leading recreation ecology practitioners. His applied field investigations help public lands managers understand the phenomena and mechanisms associated with visitor-use-related-impacts to wildlife, water, vegetation, and soils as and impacts to other recreationists (degradation or enhancement of users' experiences) in outdoor settings. His efforts focus on estimation of recreation demand, wildland recreation classification/resource inventory, public involvement, social impact analysis, state comprehensive planning, site design, land acquisition, use measurement, impact assessment, and facility operation/maintenance. His unique background— academic, trail enthusiast, entrepreneur— brings an innovative and holistic approach to providing solutions for recreation management challenges.

Contact: [email protected]

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