Assessing trail conditions in protected areas: application of a problem-assessment method in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
Leung, Y. F.
Marion, J. L.
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The degradation of trail resources associated with expanding recreation and tourism visitation is a growing management problem in protected areas worldwide. In order to make judicious trail and visitor management decisions, protected area managers need objective and timely information on trail resource conditions. This paper introduces a trail survey method that efficiently characterizes the location and lineal extent of common trail problems. The method was applied to a large sample of trails within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a high-use protected area in the USA. The Trail Problem-Assessment Method (TPAM) employs a continuous search for multiple indicators of pre-defined tread problems, yielding census data documenting the location, occurrence and extent of each problem. The present application employed 23 different indicators in three categories to gather inventory, resource condition, and design and maintenance data of each survey ed trail. Seventy-two backcountry hiking trails (528 km), or 35% of the Park's total trail length, were surveyed. Soil erosion and wet soil were found to be the two most common impacts on a lineal extent basis. Trails with serious tread problems were well distributed throughout the Park, although trails with wet muddy treads tended to be concentrated in areas where horse use was high. The effectiveness of maintenance features installed to divert water from trail treads was also evaluated. Water bars were found to be more effective than drainage dips. The TPAM was able to provide Park managers with objective and quantitative information for use in trail planning, management and maintenance decisions, and is applicable to other protected areas elsewhere with different environmental and impact characteristics.