Exploring the Social, Environmental and Economic Aspects of Trail Surfacing Decisions
Visitor activities in parks often have a heavy impact on the soil, vegetation, water and wildlife. In front country areas, the most extreme damage is concentrated on and adjacent to recreational trails. Aside from controlling the numbers, activities and behaviours of trail users, managers may choose to make trails more resistant to impact through surfacing. Unfortunately, surfacing may have negative influences on park visitors' enjoyment of trails by limiting access or detracting from the primitive setting. In addition, some surfaces may be ineffective in certain environmental conditions such as wet ground or steep slopes. Finally, the wide variety in construction and maintenance costs may make some surface types economically unfeasible. The goals of this research are to investigate the role of trail surfacing in the management of impacts from outdoor recreation; to develop better understanding of the social, economic and environmental aspects of trail surfacing decisions; and to explore a comprehensive framework for incorporating these three factors in trail management. It is hoped that this research can assist park managers in selecting surfacing options to reduce visitor impact without excessively compromising recreational experience or organizational limitations, such as financial resources. In addition to a comprehensive review of literature on visitor impact management on trails and surfacing techniques, this research employs three methods to further investigate the social, environmental and economic aspects of trail surfacing: a trail user survey, manager survey and trail condition assessment. The trail user survey was conducted at two well-used natural areas in southwestern Ontario, Canada: Presqu'ile Provincial Park and Belfountain Conservation Area. Surveys at each area explored trail users' perceptions and preferences of trail surfacing techniques in late summer 1999. The managers' survey provided insight into organizational approaches to surfacing, including construction cost and observations on recreational or environmental effectiveness. Finally, the trail condition assessment explored an approach to determining environmental effectiveness of trail surfacing techniques, but was limited by the physical and recreational variation between trails. Seven recommendations for trail managers are presented, tying in several conceptual frameworks of visitor impact management and trail surfacing decisions developed in the thesis. First, trail managers are recommended to develop a full understanding of trail design principles and alternative visitor impact management techniques. If surfacing is selected as the best impact management technique, trail managers should obtain as much information on user characteristics, environmental conditions and organizational limitations as possible. Despite the benefits and drawbacks for all surfaces, road base gravel (or angular screenings with fines) merits special attention as an excellent surface, while asphalt and concrete are not recommended for front country, semi-primitive recreation. Finally, trail managers are encouraged to share information on surfacing more freely and open surfacing decision processes to affected trail users. Overall, trail managers are provided with an approach to surfacing decisions that considers the social, environmental and economic aspects of trail surfacing, with the goal of working toward more enjoyable, environmentally responsible and cost-effective trail solutions.
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