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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
North Carolina State University

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.

  • Physical Issues of Trails (14)
  • Methodology Issues (16)
  • Trail Users (13)
  • Benefits of Trails and Trail Use (8)
  • Others (2)

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.

  • Values of the trail to the community.
  • Economic impacts of a trail to local communities and adjacent landholders.
  • Trail usage and demand on local, state, regional, and national levels.
  • Affect of educational/informational programs on reducing user conflicts on multiple-use trails.
  • Impacts of trail design, type, and use on natural resources (flora, fauna, and environment).
  • Assessment on adjacent property owners' perceptions of a trail.
  • Impacts of multiple uses on trail user experiences.
  • Volunteer groups' trail maintenance and monitoring programs.
  • Health and quality of life impacts on trail users.
  • Implications of permitting additional forms of trail use (equestrian, trail bikes, etc.)

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 If you have a study, paper, thesis, or other material you'd like to see on the Internet, contact Stuart Macdonald, webmaster, at

Existing Sources of trail-related Research

Visit 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.

Trail Databases

  • American Trails Searchable Trails and Greenways Bibliography
  • Trail Planning, Construction, and Maintenance database, University of Minnesota Forestry Library
  • Greenways Archive, North Carolina State University
  • Trails and Greenway Clearinghouse

Email Newsgroups

  • International Mountain Bicycling Association:
  • Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse:

Print Media

  • Journal of Leisure Research
  • Journal of Park and Recreation Administration
  • Leisure Sciences
  • Parks and Recreation

Contact Information

Roger Moore, Associate Professor, North Carolina State Univ.
Dept. of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management
(919) 515-3698 -

John Pugh, North Carolina State University
Dept. of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management
(919) 413-7339 -

Stuart Macdonald, American Trails website and newsletter editor
(720) 308-0567 -

March 2, 2005

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