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A Survey of Nova Scotia Hiking Trail Users

The objective of this study was to generate information to guide trail development policies and funding decisions in Nova Scotia (January 1999).

arrow Download complete 216-page Survey Report (pdf 483 kb)

Prepared for: Nova Scotia Department of Economic Development & Tourism, Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission, and Human Resource Development Canada


Despite the attention currently being devoted to trail development by various levels of government and community groups, very little information on Nova Scotia trail users or the resulting economic impacts currently exists. The overall objective of this study, which was sponsored by the Nova Scotia Department of Economic Development and Tourism, the Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission and Human Resource Development Canada, was to generate information that will guide trial development policies and funding decisions in Nova Scotia over the next few years. It was also geared to enable community development associations to form realistic expectations for the economic benefits of trail development. In particular, this study:

  • Quantified trail usage for the study trails by user type (e.g., walkers, bicyclists);
  • Profiled trail uses and their expenditure patterns;
  • Assessed the economic impact of trail user expenditure patterns for groups such as tourists and non-residents using survey data and the Nova Scotia Tourism Economic Impact Model; and,
  • Identified the most cost-effective opportunities for trail development and trail enhancement initiatives.


Between July 18, 1998 and October 12, 1998, 556 in-person interviews were conducted with trail users on 9 different trails in Nova Scotia. The study trails included: Dartmouth Urban Trail, Lunenburg Back Harbour Trail, Cape Split Trail, Blomidon Provincial Park Trail, Middlehead Trail, Bog Trail, Keji Seaside Adjunct Trail, Cape Chignecto Provincial Park Trail, and Tiverton Balancing Rock Trail. For the purposes of data analysis, these trails were divided into three different trail types that included tourist, urban, and hiking/walking trails.

The overall response rate of the surveys was 65%. However, the response rate varied for each trail and for the summer and fall seasons. The refusal rate was highest on two urban trails and lowest on the four walking/hiking trails, and the fall refusal rate was lower than the summer refusal rate on most of the trails. The major findings of these surveys are summarized below.

Trail Users

  • Most of the trail users were walking or hiking, while a few were cycling (3%) or jogging (2%).
  • Nova Scotia residents comprised 40% of the respondents, while the rest of the trail users interviewed were from other provinces (22%), the United States (29%), and other countries (9%).
  • More than half of the respondents from other provinces came from Ontario, while more than a third of the U.S. trail users were from Massachusetts or New York states. The respondents from other countries resided in 14 other countries including 10 European countries.
  • More than half of the Nova Scotia respondents lived within a 30- minute drive of the study trails, but most of these were urban users. Trail users from Nova Scotia constituted 96% of the urban trail users, 58% of the hiking/walking trails users, and 15% of the tourist trail users.
  • More than 80% of the interviewees were between the ages of 25 and 64, while the highest percentage of respondents were between 45 and 54 years of age.
  • Slightly more males than females were interviewed, while there were slightly more female members in the group of interviewed.
  • Most of the respondents were highly educated and reported high household incomes, but urban trail users reported both lower education and income levels than other trail users.
  • When asked about their personal trail use, the most frequently chosen response was that respondents were comfortable using a trail for one to two hours. In fact, 79% of the trail users reported that they were comfortable using a trail for four hours or less, and only 6% of the respondent reported being comfortable on a backpacking trip.

Trail Use

  • The average number of times the respondents reported using a trail in Nova Scotia was 34, but more than 40% of the respondent had used a trail in Nova Scotia only once in the past 12 months.
  • Respondents used an average of three different Nova Scotia in this time period, but again more than 40% of them used only one trail. Hiking/walking trail users used more trails than tourist trail users.
  • The average time spent by trail users on the trails was 2 hours. The respondents used fewer trails on average outside of Nova Scotia.
  • Frequent trail users reported that they used trails more in the summer and less in the winter.
  • The trail experiences sought most often by the respondents were mental/physical health benefits (39%), experiencing wilderness (16%), exploring new places (16%), nature appreciation/study (15%) and viewing wildlife (10%).
  • Trail users reported seeking different kinds of experiences from the different types of trails.
  • Generally, the trails either had a substantial influence or they had very little influence on the respondents' travel plans.
  • Nova Scotia residents were slightly more influenced by the province's hiking trail system than out-of-province trail users to take their trips in Nova Scotia to visit the study trails. Nova Scotian's choice of destination was also more highly influenced by the particular trail where they were interviewed than were non-Nova Scotians.
  • Tourist trail users were also less influenced by particular trails than hiking/walking trail users.
  • The five most frequently citied sources of trail information on the study trails were word of mouth (30%), general knowledge (22%), road maps (19%), tourism information centres (14%), and brochures (12%).
  • More than half of the respondents reported using additional sources of information for other trails in Nova Scotia. The most frequently cited sources of additional trail information included books (50%), tourism information centres (28%), brochures (28%), work of mouth (18%), and road maps (11%).
  • The most common activities undertaken by the respondents on the study trails on the day they were surveyed included walking/hiking (95%), photography (42%), wildlife viewing (39%), birdwatching (34%), and nature study (31%).
  • When asked what other activities they generally participated in when using trails, the three most frequently cited activities were cycling (24%), cross-county skiing (20%), and photography (20%).

Trail Conditions

  • Overall, the majority of respondents reported that the trail conditions of the study trails should stay the same.
  • The most frequently suggested recommendations for improvements included more interpretive information (37%), more direction and distance markers (34%), more drinking water (29%), more trail information brochures (24%), better identification of the trailhead on the road (24%), more washrooms (22%), and more garbage cans (20%).
  • In general, fewer tourist trail users asked for trail improvements than other trail uses. They recommended improvements in drinking water (26%), interpretive information (21%), direction and distance markers (19%), the identification of the trailhead on the road (16%), trail information brochures (15%), and washrooms (14%).
  • Specific improvements recommended for each study trail are summarized in the report. The factors which were reported to motivate trail users to increase their usage the most were more information on specific trails in guidebooks and brochures (68%), more signs on the road identifying the exact location of trails (60%), more day use trails (59%), more ocean views (57%) and more scenic viewing areas (53%).
  • The three types of trail users reported being motivated differently by the nine suggested factors. In general, fewer tourist trail users reported that they would use trails more if these changes were implemented.
  • When asked to suggest other improvements for other Nova Scotia trails, trail users recommended improvements in signage, maintenance, trail facilities, trail information, interpretation, more trails, and promotion. Respondents also noted that there was a general lack of information on trails.
  • Respondents did not want to share trails with motorized vehicles, and had mixed views towards the use of bicycles on trails.
  • Most trail users agreed that dogs should be kept on leashes.
  • Signs were recommended to inform trail users about multi-use trail designations.
  • Safety and trail erosion and damage were concerns raised by respondents about multi-use trails.
  • Some respondents felt that multi- use designations of trails needed to be done on a trail-specific basis.

Trail Counts and Estimated Trail Usage

The average summer use on the study trails was considerably higher than the average fall trail use. Trail use in the spring was estimated according to seasonal patterns of Nova Scotia tourism and fall trail usage patterns. The total estimated trail usage for spring, summer and fall varied between 2,000 and 33,200 for the individual trails. The estimated trail usage was highest on the three trails which are know to be popular with tourists (i.e. Bog, Middle head, and Tiverton). The Lunenburg Back Harbour Trail received only limited local use, while the Cape Chignecto and Blomidon trails were found to have the lowest uses. Given that Cape Chignecto was a new trail this year and only open from late-June, it is expected that its rate of use will increase in subsequent years.

Economic Impacts

  • The average spending per party for non-Nova Scotians was about $1,210 which breaks down to about $1,210 per party beyond a 30 minute drive and about $90 within a 30-minute drive of the trail
  • In contrast, the average spending per party for Nova Scotia tourist parties was $210, of which about $130 occurs beyond the 30 minute drive range and about $80 within the 30 minute range.
  • The average spending per party for Nova Scotians living within a 30-minute drive of the trial was only $2.50.
  • Aggregate expenditure associated with the use of trails was estimated at $90.5 million, with 79.4 million derived from tourist trails and $11.1 million from hiking/walking trails.
  • Urban trail uses were found not to make expenditures in connection with their trail use. Non-Nova Scotians accounted for the bulk of the spending ($ 86 million), and total spending beyond the 30 minute drive of trails accounted for $83.3 million.
  • When adjusted to take into account the influence of the trail system, the aggregate spending of trail users declined to $34.3 million. The trail incremental portion of spending also dropped to $28.3 million when the influence of particular trails was used.
  • Although hiking/walking trails were responsible for only about 12% of aggregate spending by trail users, these trails accounted for 16% to 25% of incremental spending.

Future Trail Development

Recommendations for future trail development were focussed in the following areas:

  • Improving trail information;
  • Improving road signage;
  • Providing more interpretative information;
  • Providing more trail maintenance and upgrading;
  • Increasing trail promotion;
  • Reviewing multi-use management policies
  • Preventing crowding and over-development;
  • Adding more facilities; and,
  • Creating new trails (especially ones with coastal scenic views).

Many of these suggestion would be inexpensive to implement, but have the potential to increase usage of Nova Scotia trails, according to survey respondents. Respondents indicated that some small, cost- effective changes would increase their usage of Nova Scotia trails. Only recommendation pertaining to facilities and new trails would incur much spending. The decision to implement these recommendation will have to be made on a trail by trail basis dependent on funding and community support.


The appendices to this report include:

  • Background information and methodology issues (a discussion of other trail users and economic impact surveys, a review of other studies on the economic impacts of trails, a description of the methodology and counting problems, a review of other studies measuring trail use, references);
  • English and French copies of the questionnaire;
  • A discussion of how total trail use was estimated;
  • The detailed survey results;
  • An interviewer procedure manual;
  • A customised survey manual; and,
  • Survey comments.
  • A separate Customized Trail Users Survey Manual was also prepared in this study to assist community groups and other associations interested in conducting similar trail research.

arrow Download complete 216-page Survey Report (pdf 483 kb)

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