Differences between rail-trail users and general trail users of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

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Virginia Tech


Recent research has emphasized the importance of rail-trails for various activity experiences and economic benefits. Past research has not, however, examined rail-trail opportunities with other trail opportunities in order to understand whether specific management efforts are needed for this type of setting and its users.

This study investigated the differences between rail-trail users and general trail users with respect to socio-demographics (age, income, gender, income, community type), use characteristics (frequency of visitation, miles traveled to the site, group size, past experience with the area), expenditures (total and specific types), and trail/activity meanings (satisfaction, setting appraisals, place attachment, activity involvement, mode of experience).

The study included a variety of camping and day-use areas within the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. On-site interview and mail survey data were obtained from 235 trail respondents from May through October, 1993.

Findings revealed few group differences with respect to socio-demographics and trail meanings. Use characteristics and expenditures, however, demonstrated differences as rail-trail users tended to be day-users who traveled shorter distances, participated in trail activities for fewer hours and within smaller groups, and tended to spend more on hotel accommodations and restaurants than general trail users.

Management implications relate to assisting the economic base of local communities by attracting more non-local rail-trail users and encouraging them to stay longer in the region. Recommendations for further research suggest assessing benefits and motivations with respect to specific trail opportunities in order to reveal greater group differentiation. A discussion on the joint effects of variations in activities at the two trail settings is also addressed.