The Influence of Layout on Degradation of the Appalachian Trail

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Virginia Tech


This research investigates the influence of layout and design on the severity of trail degradation. Previous trail studies have been restricted by relatively small study areas which provide a limited range of environmental conditions and therefore produce findings with limited applicability; this research improves on this limitation by analyzing a representative sample of the Appalachian Trail with significant ecological diversity. Most trail science studies have also focused on a singular form of trail degradation, whereas this study investigates trail soil loss, widening and muddiness, providing a more cohesive analysis and revealing interrelationships between trail degradation processes. ANOVA testing of the mean values of three trail impact indicators for trail transects within several trail layout frameworks confirms the broad relevance of core trail design principles, specifically the sustainability advantages of trails with low grades and side-hill alignments. Findings also reveal the importance of landform grade in determining the susceptibility of trails to degradation and the influence of routing decisions; these relationships have received relatively little attention in the literature. The results also reveal several methodological considerations for trail alignment metrics and trail impact indicators.



Recreation Ecology, Sustainable Trail Management, Sustainable Trail Design, Trail Degradation, Trail Soil Loss, Trail Widening, Trail Muddiness, Appalachian Trail