Off the Beaten Track: Messages as a Means of Reducing Social Trail Use at St. Lawrence Islands National Park


  • Lori E.A. Bradford
  • Norman McIntyre


Visitor impact, depreciative behaviour, attribution theory, social trails.


During the 2004 visitor season, a covert observational study was conducted at St. Lawrence Islands National Park, Ontario, Canada to assess the effects of signs on mitigating social trail use on two of the park islands. Social trails are those not originally setup by park managers, but which arise due to off-trail use by visitors for a variety of purposes such as access to places of interest and shortcutting. In particularly sensitive or small island-based recreational areas, social trails can present significant disturbances to species at risk, and increase fragmentation of natural areas. The study examined the effectiveness of message text, and location in reducing the amount of social trail use by visitors. An attribution message was more effective than a plea message at eliciting desired behaviours. Furthermore, when signs were posted at social trailheads, use of the social trail was reduced significantly compared to no messages, or messages located at points of entry to the islands. Sign effectiveness is attributed to a message design which incorporated awareness, and internal locus of causality and control. National park managers could profitably implement attribution messages at appropriate locations to reduce social trail use specifically, and other forms of depreciative behaviour more generally. Plea messages, although eliciting significant reductions in social trail use, were not as effective. With levels of environmental concern in populations remaining positive over long periods, the use of messages that focus on personal responsibility and potentially encourage pro-environmental behaviour is proffered as an effective and economically efficient management approach.





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