The Influence of Trail Design on the Impacts of Walkers, Mountain Bikers and Multi-use Trail Users: An Environmentally Responsible Approach

Trail design and building guidelines are essential tools for influencing the behaviour—and therefore the environmental impact—of users of walking, mountain biking and multi-use recreation trails. Yet, these tools are often not explicitly considered in research that monitors their environmental impact. This is the first study to investigate the role of trail design in shaping how walkers and mountain bikers utilise mountain biking, walking and multi-use trails. The research differentiates trail feature types to examine how they shape user behaviour and, therefore, environmental impact. This observational study uses time-series photographic imagery to examine behaviour and impacts over 12 months. Impacts at each site were examined using current trail building design guidelines. The findings show that shortcuts were commonly employed to avoid long sections on walker-only trails, and to cut across meandering tracks on the multi-use trails in the mountain bike park. Trail spread occurs when walkers use the edges of the trail to avoid rough or uneven surfaces such as stairs and tree roots. Depressions in the trail before technical mountain biking features such as berms and drops were also apparent. Further observations include toilet paper and litter on the walking trails. The research furthermore indicates the unintended environmental impacts when trail users did not adhere to specific trail features or did not use the trails as intended. Unique trail design principles are required where walkers and mountain bikers use the same trails, and this paper provides recommendations for improving trail design.

Keywords:   trail design, walking, mountain biking, environmental responsibility

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