Trail Resource Impacts and An Examination of Alternative Assessment Techniques


  • Jeffrey L. Marion
  • Yu-Fai Leung


Visitor impacts, trail impact assessment, trail surveys, impact monitoring, Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Trails are a primary recreation resource facility on which recreation activities are performed. They provide safe access to non-roaded areas, support recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking, and wildlife observation, and protect natural resources by concentrating visitor traffic on resistant treads. However, increasing recreational use, coupled with poorly designed and/or maintained trails, has led to a variety of resource impacts. Trail managers require objective information on trails and their conditions to monitor trends, direct trail maintenance efforts, and evaluate the need for visitor management and resource protection actions. This paper reviews trail impacts and different types of trail assessments, including inventory, maintenance, and condition assessment approaches. Two assessment methods, point sampling and problem assessment, are compared empirically from separate assessments of a 15-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Results indicate that point sampling and problem assessment methods yield distinctly different types of quantitative information. The point sampling method provides more accurate and precise measures of trail characteristics that are continuous or frequent (e.g., tread width or exposed soil). The problem assessment method is a preferred approach for monitoring trail characteristics that can be easily predefined or are infrequent (e.g., excessive width or secondary treads), particularly when information on the location of specific trail impact problems is needed. The advantages and limitations of these two assessment methods are examined in relation to various management and research information needs. The choice and utility of these assessment methods are also discussed.