A Comparative Study of Impacts to Mountain Bike Trails in Five Common Ecological Regions of the Southwestern U.S.


  • Dave D. White
  • M. Troy Waskey
  • Grant P. Brodehl
  • Pamela E. Foti


Recreation ecology, recreation impacts, ecological impacts, impact assessment, trail management


A rapid increase in mountain biking participation over the past thirty years has led to concerns about ecological impacts to recreation environments, especially trails. It is widely accepted that recreational use of natural areas inevitably results in some degree of change to resource conditions, and managers must consider the social acceptability and ecological significance of such changes in their decision making. The ecological impacts of mountain biking, however, and relationships between impacts and trail features remain poorly understood.

This study uses Common Ecological Regions (CERs) as a mapped ecological framework to guide comparative analysis of differences in maximum trail incision and trail width at varying slope levels for mountain bike trails in five CERs in the southwest U.S. A point-measurement trail assessment procedure was utilized to measure maximum incision and width for 163.2 miles of mountain bike trails. Results show a significant effect of CER on trail width and maximum incision and a significant effect of trail slope on maximum trail incision. Maximum trail width and incision were greatest in the Arizona/New Mexico Mountains region, perhaps due to environmental features such as erodable soils and sparse trailside vegetation, higher use, and/or user behavior. Maximum incision increased consistently with slope for three of five CERs.

Relative to other trail impact research, the sites assessed in this study were in similar condition to other trails on the specific parameters measured. The findings from this study reinforce results from previous research that certain impacts to mountain bike trails, especially width, are comparable or less than hiking or multiple-use trails, and significantly less than impacts to equestrian or off-highway vehicle trails.





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