Supporting Digital Conservation through Mediated Communication on the Appalachian Trail

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Virginia Tech

Spanning 14 states in the northeast United States, the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with thousands of individuals attempting to thru-hike the AT every year. For its scenic views and accessibility from the cities, the AT is experiencing a record number of visitors raising concerns about the sustainability of the trail. Many trail organizations manage the AT to reduce the visitor impact on the outdoors. In this research, I study the role of information and communication technologies in promoting collaboration between these trail agencies and visitors. I identify the need for a formal communication channel between the stakeholders by examining the existing information-sharing practices of hikers and trail managers through social media analysis, interviews, and a design workshop. I present the design of an online discussion platform, the SmarTrail board, and conduct a field usability study with two AT trail clubs to evaluate the platform. Findings from the study reveal that centralized direct communication and streamlined information can support trail management on the AT by promoting collaboration within the trail community. The research paves the path for future research into the design of ICTs for driving nature conservation goals.

HCI, Technology on the trail, Information and Communication Technologies, Sustainability