Conflicts on Multiple-Use Trails:
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Synthesis of the Literature and State of the Practice
Table Of Contents
II. Research Needs In Avoiding And
Minimizing Conflicts On Multiple-Use Trails
Technical Report Documentation Page
The manager of any trail faces many challenges, usually within the
context of too few staff and too little money. The underlying
challenges faced by trail managers, however, remain the same
regardless of the type of trail and whether it serves a single group
or many different ones. Trail managers attempt to: 1) maintain user
safety, 2) protect natural resources, and 3) provide high-quality user
experiences. These issues can become more complex and more difficult
to manage as the number and diversity of trail uses increase, but the
challenges and the tools available to address them remain basically
Unsafe situations or conditions caused by other trail users can keep
visitors from achieving their desired trail experiences. This goal
interference due to safety concerns is a common source of conflicts on
trails. There are a number of threats to user safety that can occur
on trails. Some of these include:
To help maintain user safety on trails, planners and managers can
attempt to control or influence many factors, including the
- Collisions and near misses among users and/or their vehicles.
- Reckless and irresponsible behavior.
- Poor user preparation or judgment.
- Unsafe conditions related to trail use (e.g., deep ruts, tracks
on snow trail, etc.).
- Unsafe conditions not related to trail use (e.g., obstacles,
terrain, weather, river crossings, etc.).
- Poor trail design, construction, maintenance or management.
- Other hazards (e.g., bears, lightning, cliffs, crime, etc.).
Resource impacts such as soil erosion, damaged vegetation, polluted
water supplies, litter, vandalism, and many other indications of the
presence of others can lead to feelings of crowding and conflict.
These feelings can occur even when there is no actual contact among
different trail users. A hiker's enjoyment might be reduced by seeing
All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) tracks near a wilderness boundary, for
example, or an equestrian user might be upset to see many cars with
bike racks at the trailhead before beginning a ride.
- User speed (often has more to do with speed differential than
the speed itself).
- Mass of user and vehicle (if any).
- Sight distances.
- Trail width.
- Trail surface.
- Congestion (e.g., number of users per mile).
- Users overtaking one other silently/without warning.
- Trail difficulty (obstacles, terrain, condition, etc.).
- User skill level and experience.
- User expectations and preparedness (e.g., walkers who understand
they may see bicycles on a particular trail can better prepare
themselves for possible encounters).
- Emergency procedures.
- On-site management presence.
Minimizing environmental impacts is a high priority for resource and
recreation managers. Natural resources include soils, wildlife,
vegetation, water, and air quality. Historic, cultural, and
archaeological resources are also vulnerable to impacts caused by
trail use. A considerable amount of trail manager time and resources
is spent attempting to minimize impacts affecting each of these
resources. All trail use, regardless of travel mode, impacts natural
resources. Research indicates that the following factors influence
the amount of resource damage caused by trail use:
There is a large body of research regarding the natural resource
impacts of outdoor recreation. Much of this research is reviewed in
Visitor Impact Management.. A Review of Researcb, by Kuss, Graefe,
and Vaske (1990). It provides an excellent summary and synthesis of
the findings of more than 230 articles related to the vegetation and
soil impacts of recreation, 190 related to water resources impacts,
and another 100 related to impacts on wildlife. Many of these deal
directly or indirectly with trail use. Another excellent reference is
a bibliography prepared by the National Off-Highway Vehicle
Conservation Council (date unknown). It identifies more than 750
studies relating to off-highway vehicles and their use. A large
number of these relate to resource impacts and resource protection.
- Soil characteristics: type, texture, organic content,
consistence, depth, moisture (e.g., muddy versus dry), temperature
levels (especially frozen versus thawed), etc.
- Slope of surface and topography
- Position in land form (e.g., northern versus southern exposure)
- Type of ecosystem
- Type of wildlife
- Type of vegetation in trail
- Type of vegetation and terrain beside trail (influencing
- Quality of trail design and construction (especially regarding
- Level of maintenance (e.g., effectiveness of drainage)
- Type of use
- Type of vehicle
- Level of use
- Concentration or dispersal of use
- Season of use
- Difficulty of terrain (to user)
- Up or down hill traffic direction
- Style of use or technique (e.g., skidding tires versus
Based on their thorough review of the literature, Kuss et al. (1990)
conclude that evaluations of impacts should be made on a site-specific
or area-specific basis due to the many interrelated factors affecting
them. They do, however, offer the following generalizations regarding
the impacts of various trail uses: backpacking causes more damage than
hiking without a pack; hiking and backpacking cause greater changes to
trails than walking; horses and packstock cause greater damage than
hiking; trail biking causes more damage than hiking; and track-driven
vehicles cause more damage than wheel-driven vehicles. They note,
however, that site-specific factors can lead to exceptions to these
generalizations. In a recent study of erosion damage caused by trail
use, Seney (1991) concluded that horses produced more erosion than
hikers, off-road bicycles, or motorcycles and that wet trails were
more susceptible to damage than dry trails.
It is sometimes difficult to distinguish trail damage caused by trail
users from damage caused by nonusers. For example, equestrian trail
use is often blamed for damage caused by livestock grazing on public
lands. Damage that appears to have been caused by motorized trail
users may have been caused by trail crews accessing work sites or by
miners traveling to and from their claims. In many cases, the initial
construction of the trail itself causes greater resource impact than
subsequent trail use (Keller 1990).
One aspect of protecting natural resources that is particularly
relevant to multiple-use trail management is the relationship between
amount of use and levels of natural resource impact. Numerous studies
of the effects of camping indicate that the greatest environmental
impact occurs with low use (see review by Kuss et al. 1990). In
other words, the initial users of lightly used areas cause the most
damage to soils and vegetation. The rate of degradation generally
decreases after a certain amount of damage has been done. This has
important implications for the issue of whether to concentrate or
disperse trail use. In trail settings where this same relationship
holds, dispersing trail use to relatively unused trails may greatly
increase environmental impacts.
Researchers believe that people who participate in outdoor recreation
activities do so because they hope to gain certain rewards or outcomes
(Vroom 1964; Driver and Tocher 1970). These outcomes consist of a
wide variety of experiences such as solitude, challenge, being with
friends or family, testing skills, experiencing nature, and others
(Driver and Knopf 1977; Driver and Brown 1978; Tinsley and Kass 1978).
What experiences are desired vary a great deal across activities,
among people participating in the same activity, and even within the
same individual on different outings (Schreyer and Roggenbuck 1978;
Graefe, Ditton, Roggenbuck, and Schreyer 1981). In fact,
recreationists are often seeking to satisfy multiple desires in a
single outing (Hendee 1974, Driver and Toeher 1970). So recreation
behavior is understood to be goal-directed and undertaken to satisfy
desires for particular experiences. The quality of these experiences
In a perfect world, land managers could provide nearby, high-quality
opportunities for every type of experience trail users might possibly
seek. This is rarely possible, of course. Limited budgets, limited
amounts of land, and the sheer number of users with different
preferences make it impossible to perfectly satisfy all the people all
the time. Flexibility, compromise, and common courtesy on the parts
of all users are necessary to maximize the opportunities for
high-quality experiences for everyone.
Past research has consistently found that outdoor recreationists are
well satisfied with their recreation experiences (Kuss et al. 1990,
191). However, recreation experiences are affected by many subjective
as well as situational factors: the conditions encountered at an area,
users' expectations, any discrepancies between what users expect and
what they actually find or experience (Lawler 1973; Peterson 1974;
Schreyer and Roggenbuck 1978; Todd and Graefe 1989), social and
personal norms (shared "rules" or "standards" of good or bad, right or
wrong, etc.), use levels (Kuss et al. 1990), and "social
interference" (Brehm 1966; Proshansky, Ittelson and Rivlin 1970). For
a complete review of research related to the recreation experience,
see Kuss, Graefe, and Vaske (1990). Two of the most serious threats
to quality trail experiences on multiple-use trails are discussed in
more detail below.
Crowding is more than the objective density of users in a particular
area. It is a subjective judgment on the part of an individual that
there are too many other people there. In other words, it is a
negative evaluation of a particular density of people in an area
(Stokols 1972; Rapoport 1975; Kuss et al. 1990). As such, crowding
can reduce the quality of recreation experiences. Level of use does
appear to affect feelings of crowding, but in most cases not directly.
Levels of perceived crowding vary with such mediating factors as:
See Kuss et al. (1990) for an excellent review and synthesis of
research related to crowding. Crowding on trails can be the result of
others participating in the same trail activity or different
activities. Crowding can be related to feelings of conflict on
- Number of encounters
- Number of encounters preferred
- Number of encounters expected
- Discrepancy between actual and expected encounters
- Motivations for participation (e.g., solitude versus social
- Preferences (desires)
- Expectations (what was anticipated)
- Behavior (as opposed to the number) of others
- Visitor attitudes
- Type of area (e.g., primitive versus urban)
- Location of contacts (e.g., trailhead versus campsite)
- Proximity of others
- Size of group
- Size of group encountered
- User's experience level
- Perceived environmental disturbance
- Type of encounter
- Obtrusiveness of visual impact (e.g., bright-colored versus
earth-toned clothes, tents, and equipment)
The verb "share" is generally defined as "to distribute parts of
something among others; to retain one part of something and give the
rest or part of the rest to another or others; to take or use a part
of something with someone or something; to do or experience something
with others; to join with others in doing or experiencing something."
On the other hand, the verb "conflict" is defined as "to be at
variance, clash, to struggle, or contend" (New Webster's Dictionary
1992). Conflict can cause serious impacts to recreation experiences,
to the point of causing some users to end their use and be displaced
by other pre-emptive users (Schreyer 1979).
According to recreation researchers, conflict is a special type of
dissatisfaction. It is generally defined as "goal interference
attributed to another's behavior" (Jacob and Schreyer 1980, 369; Jacob
1977). For example, when a trail user fails to achieve the
experiences desired from the trip and determines that it is due to
someone else's behavior, conflict results and satisfaction suffers.
As defined by Jacob and Schreyer (1980), conflict is not the same
thing as competition for scarce resources. If people attribute not
getting a parking place at a trailhead to their own lack of planning,
there is no conflict. If they blame the lack of parking places on
horseback riders who they feel have parked their trucks and trailers
inconsiderately (whether or not this is truly the case), conflict will
likely result. In both cases, users did not achieve their goals, and
dissatisfaction resulted, but only one was due to conflict as defined
As with crowding, conflict is not an objective state but depends on
individual interpretations of past, present, and future contacts with
others. Jacob and Schreyer (1980, 370) theorize that there are four
classes of factors that produce conflict in outdoor recreation:
These four factors have been redefined by Watson, Niccolucci, and
Williams (in press) as "specialization level," "definition of place,"
"focus of trip/expectations," and "lifestyle tolerance." Their
research suggests that these factors may be better at predicting
predispositions toward conflict than predicting actual goal
- Activity Style
- The various personal meanings attached to an activity.
Intensity of participation, status, range of experience, and
definitions of quality (e.g., experts and novices may not mix well).
- Resource Specificity
- The significance attached to using a specific recreation
resource for a given recreation experience (e.g., someone running her
favorite trail near where she grew up along Lake Tahoe will not
appreciate seeing a tourist demonstrate a lack of respect for her
"special place" by littering).
- Mode of Experience
- The varying expectations of how the natural environment will be
perceived (e.g., bird watchers who are "focused" on the natural
environment will not mix well with a group of ATV riders seeking speed
and thrills who are "unfocused" on the environment).
- Tolerance for Lifestyle Diversity
- The tendency to accept or reject lifestyles different from one's
own (e.g., some trail users "just don't like" people who do not share
their values, priorities, trail activities, etc.).
Notice that none of the above factors thought to produce (or
predispose some to) conflict are necessarily related to the particular
activity a trail user might be engaged in at the time. Also note that
no actual contact need occur for conflict to be felt.
Taking an approach similar to that of Jacob and Schreyer (1980), Owens
(1985) attempts to differentiate more clearly between "conflict" and
"crowding" from a goal-oriented social and psychological perspective.
He defines "recreational conflict" as "a negative experience occurring
when competition for shared resources prevents expected benefits of
participation from accruing to an individual or group." He defines
"social and psychological conflict" as "competition for shared
resources amongst individuals or groups whose leisure behavior is
mutually exclusive or has contrary objectives and as existing whenever
two or more individuals or groups perceive the (recreational) utility
of particular (countryside) resources in terms of opposing values or
goals." In other words, social interrelationships and differences
among users are more the root problem than the physical influences
they might have on one another. Owens develops this concept by
introducing two propositions:
Kuss et al. (1990) noted three types of coping strategies, all of
which change the character of the experience for the user forced to
- "Conflict is a process of social interaction which is
operationalized with the general motivational goal of eliminating
environmental instability and restoring perceived equilibrium" (p.
251). According to Owens, aII behavior settings have normative
"rules." When competing groups view a setting and its purpose in
different ways and/or there is inappropriate behavior, these rules
begin to break down. In such cases people will employ various coping
mechanisms (behavioral, cognitive, or affective) to try to eliminate
the source of stress and try to return things to a more desirable
state. Conflict occurs when these coping strategies are inadequate,
unsuccessful, or unavailable in an acceptable period of time and
alternatives seem to be unavailable (i.e., if a person's coping
strategies don't work, his feelings of crowding can become feelings of
- "Conflict is a cumulative process of social interaction which
once established becomes an enduring psychological state guiding the
behavior of individuals and/or groups" (p. 252). Owens proposed that
this is how conflict can be distinguished from crowding. Crowding is
an immediate reaction to present conditions and thus transient.
Conflict is more persistent and enduring, lasting beyond a particular
outing. Owens sees conflict itself as an experience which can be
viewed as a continuum from "simmering discontent and frustration" to
confrontation. It may or may not alter actual behavior. If overt
confrontation appears, much of thc damage of conflict may have already
In studies of recreationists on trails, rivers, and lakes, several
themes and patterns have been found to relate to conflict. These
themes tend to support the four theoretical propositions proposed by
Jacob and Schreyer (1980) that were discussed above. These themes
- Users re-evaluate the normative definition of what is acceptable
(i.e., they adapt and accept the conditions they find).
- Users change their behavior (e.g., use less frequently, use at
off-peak times, etc.).
- Users are displaced altogether (i.e., conditions are
unacceptable to them, so they stop the activity or stop visiting that
Another theme related to trail conflict often expressed by trail
managers and trail users is the resentment toward newcomers that is
often expressed by traditional trail users. This is similar to the
"last settler syndrome" (Nielsen, Shelby and Haas 1977) where visitors
want a particular place to remain the way is was when they first
arrived. The first or traditional users want to be the last ones
allowed access. Mountain bikers commonly complain that hikers want to
unfairly exclude them from backcountry areas just because bicycle use
is new and untraditional. This "last settler syndrome" is
particularly acute in areas where one user group has built and/or
maintained trails which are later invaded by other types of uses.
Managers and new users must be sensitive to the understandable
ownership the traditional users feel toward trails they have built and
care for. A similar sense of ownership and tradition makes it more
difficult to close trails to a particular use once that use is
established. The animosity felt by some long-time mountain bikers
toward managers of the Mt. Tamalpias area (Marin County, north of San
Francisco) is likely magnified by the fact that in the early days of
mountain biking, all trails there were open to mountain biking.
Single-track trails were subsequently closed to mountain bike use.
- Level of Technology
- Participants in activities that use different levels of
technology often experience conflict with one another. Examples
include cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, hikers and
motorcyclists, canoe paddlers and motor boaters, and nonmotorized raft
users and motorized raft users (Lucas 1964; Knopp and Tyger 1973;
Devall and Harry 1981; Adelman, Heberlein, and Bonnicksen 1982; Noe,
Hull, and Wellman 1982; Noe, Wellman, and Buhyoff 1982; Bury, Holland,
and McEwen 1983; Gramann and Burge 1981).
- Conflict as Asymmetrical
- Many times, feelings of conflict are one-way. For example,
crosscountry skiers dislike encountering snowmobilers, but
snowmobilers are not as unhappy about encountering cross-country
skiers. This type of one-way conflict has been found between many
different activities (Stankey 1973; Schreyer and Nielsen 1978; Devall
and Harry 1981; Jackson and Wong 1982; Adelman, Heberlein and
Bonnicksen 1982). In general, trail users enjoy meeting their own
kind, but dislike uses that are faster and more mechanized than their
own (McCay and Moeller 1976; Goldbloom 1992).
- Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of the Environment
- Users in conflict have been found to have different attitudes
toward the environment (Knopp and Tyger 1973; Saremba and Gill 1991)
and may perceive the environment differently. Perceptions may be
influenced by when the user first visited the area, with long-time and
frequent visitors being most sensitive to contacts with others
(Nielsen, Shelby and Haas 1977; Schreyer, Lime and Williams 1984).
People who view the environment as an integral part of the experience
are more susceptible to conflict than those who see the environment as
just a setting for their activity. (Low Impact Mountain Bicyclists of
Missoula (LIMB), for example, encourages riders "to use mountain bikes
to enjoy the environment, rather than use the environment to enjoy
mountain bikes" (Sprung 1990, 29). Some experiences are dependent
upon very specific environments. Likewise, people can become attached
to particular settings (Williams and Roggenbuck 1989; Moore and Graefe
1994). Some mountain bikers feel hikers are too possessive toward
trails (Hollenhorst, Schuett and Olson 1993).
- Others as Different
- Users experiencing conflict perceive others to be different from
themselves in terms of background, lifestyle, feelings about
wilderness, activities, etc. (Adelman, Heberlein and Bonnicksen 1982).
However, trail-user groups are sometimes more similar than they
believe (Watson, Williams and Daigle 1991). Method of travel and
group size are the most visible cues users can evaluate to determine
their similarity to other groups (Kuss et al. 1990). One negative
contact can lead some sensitive users to conclude that "all of them
- Violation of Norms
- Individuals and groups with different standards of behavior
(social and individual norms that define what behavior is appropriate)
often conflict with one another (Jacob and Schreyer 1980; Vaske,
Fedler and Graefe 1986). Norms of behavior are established through
social interaction and refined through an ongoing process. These
norms influence how people behave and how they expect others to
behave. For example, many fishermen resent canoeists who shout and
yell (Driver and Bassett 1975). They apparently hold a norm that
boisterous behavior is inappropriate in those situations. The
strength of the norm violated (as well as the importance of the goal
interfered with) will influence the magnitude of the conflict. Norms
appear to be more useIFul than goals for predicting conflict (e.g., a
hiker and a motorcyclist may share the same goals of experiencing
nature and escaping from the city but may cause conflict for one
- Level of Tolerance
- Level of tolerance for others is related to level of conflict
(Jacob and Schreyer 1980; Ivy, Steward and Lue 1992). Levels of
tolerance vary widely among individuals depending upon personal norms
and situational factors such as group size, where the contact occurs,
when the user first visited the area, motivations, and frequency of
use (Vaske et al. 1986; Shelby and Heberlein 1986). Levels of
tolerance are lowest in "wilderness" areas. Assumed images of
activities and stereotyping influence tolerance as well (White and
Schreyer 1981; Williams 1993). This is consistent with the belief
among members of LIMB that Missoula's "live and let live" attitude
contributed to their success in minimizing user conflicts on area
- Environmental Dominance
- Users who differ in terms of the importance they give to
"conquering" the environment are likely to conflict. This is related
to the importance of autonomy, control, challenge, and risk-taking
goals (Bury, Holland and McEwen 1983).
In addition to the general causes of conflict summarized above, it is
instructive to look at specific factors that lead to feelings of
conflict on trails. Sources of conflict can be either willful or
innocent. Some users are irresponsible and unfriendly. They behave
in ways they know will annoy others or damage resources. Many,
however, are simply not aware of how they should behave on trails.
Examples of common sources of conflict among trail users reported by
trail managers and users include noise, speed, smell of exhaust,
surprise, lack of courtesy, trail damage (e.g., erosion, tracks, skid
marks, ctc.), snow track damage, different (and sometimes unrealistic)
expectations, uncontrolled dogs, horse manure, fouled water sources,
littering, animal tracks in snow, wild behavior, and lack of respect
for others. Flink and Searns (1993) believe conflict results from an
increase in demand for trail resources, increased use of existing
limited trails, poor management, underdesigned facilities, lack of
user etiquette, and disregard for the varying abilities of trail users
A study of readers of Backpacker magazine found that over two-thirds
felt the use of mountain bikes on trails was objectionable (Viehman
1990). Startling other trail users, running others off the trail,
being faster and more mechanized, damaging the resources, causing
erosion, frightening wildlife, and "just being there" were the biggest
concerns (Kulla 1991; Chavez, Winter and Baas 1993). Keller (1990)
notes that brightly colored clothes, a high-tech look, and the
perception of a technological invasion can all be sources of conflict
felt by others toward mountain bikers.
Just as some physical damage to trails is not caused by trail users,
some conflicts on trails are not due to other trail users at all.
Aircraft noise from sightseeing planes and helicopters, for example,
is a major irritant to trail users in Hawaii. Noise and smells from
nearby roads or developments can have as much or more impact on trail
experiences than conflicts with other users.
So, following this collection of items that can cause conflict on
trails, the relevant question is, how big a problem is trail conflict?
Certainly, conflict is a major problem on some multi-use trails (Flink
and Searns 1993). As mentioned earlier, however, past research has
consistently found that outdoor recreationists are well satisfied with
their recreation experiences (Kuss et al. 1990, 191). This has been
found in a variety of settings, including trails. Because the
conflict studies noted above were designed to examine recreational
conflict, many of them focused on areas where visible conflicts were
occurring. These studies do not give a clear picture of the scope of
conflict that might be occurring on trails in general. Conflicts are
certainly a serious threat to satisfaction, but serious conflicts may
not be the norm.
Several studies of multiple-use rail-trails have included questions
related to user conflicts. In a survey of rail-trail managers
conducted by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy in 1991, over half of the
83 managers responding reported no conflicts or "few if any" conflicts
on their trails. The most common type of conflicts reported were
between hikers and bikers, followed by conflicts between equestrians
and bikers. Conflicts involving in-line skaters, cross-country
skiers, and dogs were also reported. A study of three rail-trails in
Iowa, Florida, and California found that users reported little problem
with conflict on average. More than 2,000 users were asked to rate
"conflicts with other activities" and "reckless behavior of trail
users" on a 7-point scale where "1" represented "not a problem" and
"7" represented "a major problem." The mean response was less than 2
on each trail for "conflicts with other activities" and ranged from
1.5 to 2.8 for "reckless behavior of trail users" (Moore, Graefe,
Gitelson and Porter 1992, III-26). The same study included an
open-ended question that asked "What things did you like least about
the trail?" The top three responses were recorded for each user. Of a
total of 2,128 comments, 316 (14.8 percent) related to the behavior of
other users. The most common of these (239) were about bicyclists
being inconsiderate, riding two-abreast, passing with no warning,
going too fast, and other unspecified concerns about bikers. An
additional 72 (3.4 percent) identified crowding as the thing liked
least. Similar results were found in a study of trail users on 19
multi-purpose pedestrian and bike trails in Illinois (Gobster 1990,
32). "Use problems" (crowding, conflict, and reckless users) received
mean ratings of less than 2 on a 5-point scale where "1" represented
"not a problem" and "5" represented a "major problem."
A recent National Park Service study of backcountry recreation
management provided information related to conflicts on backcountry
trails in 93 national parks (Marion, Roggenbuck and Manning 1993).
Nine percent of the parks reported that conflicts between horses and
hikers were a problem in many or most backcountry areas. Three
percent of the parks reported that conflicts between hikers and
mountain bikers were a problem in many or most areas. Day users
(apparently due to their large numbers), overnight users, horse users,
and mountain bikers were all felt to cause visitor conflicts. Day
users, overnight users, OHV/ATV users, horse users, and mountain
bikers were also reported to create problems through inconsiderate
Conflicts among trail users are a serious problem in some areas. On
Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California, for example, "renegade"
mountain bikers have allegedly built illegal trails and engaged in
vandalism and sabotage to attempt to gain access to single-track
trails closed to them. However, there are also areas where users are
successfully (and apparently happily) sharing trails. Unfortunately,
the existing research does not offer much insight into how widespread
a problem recreational conflict is on trails. Many of the managers we
talked to felt conflict was a problem. Several also volunteered that
they expected conflicts to increase unless they could do something
about the problem soon.
Managers of multiple-use trails face many interrelated challenges.
Most important, they must attempt to keep users safe, minimize
negative impacts to natural resources, and provide for high-quality
visitor experiences. All of these challenges involve managing various
types of impacts caused by recreational use. Conflicts among trail
users are one of these impacts. After extensively reviewing the
recreation literature, Kuss et al. (1990) developed five principles
related to the impacts caused by outdoor recreation (pp. 5, 187-188).
Although developed to explain the environmental and social impacts of
outdoor recreation in general, they apply equally well to the impacts
(including conflict) that challenge managers of multiple-use trails in
particular. They consider contacts between users and the damage users
cause to the environment as "first-order" social impacts (p. 189).
They feel these impacts interact to cause combinations of perceived
crowding, dissatisfaction, perceived resource impacts, as well as
conflicts between users. Their principles can be summarized as
Conflicts on trails can be a serious, complex challenge, but one that
must be addressed if users are to have safe, satisfying experiences.
The next section details the tools available to address the challenge
of conflict on multiple-use trails.
- Recreational use can cause an interrelated set of impacts to
occur (e.g., damage to natural resources caused by one group can lead
to feelings of conflict or crowding in another group). There is no
single predictable response to recreational use.
- Impacts are related to level of use, but the strength and nature
of the relationships vary widely and are influenced by many aspects of
use intensity and a variety of situational variables.
- Tolerance to impacts vary (e.g., all individuals do not respond
the same way to encounters with other visitors, just as all soils or
plants react differently to trampling).
- Impacts are activity-specific. Some activities create impacts
more quickly or to a greater degree than others. Impacts even from
the same activity can vary according to such factors as mode of
transportation, characteristics of visitors, party size, and behavior.
- Impacts are site-specific. Given a basic tolerance level to a
particular type of recreation, the outcome of use may still depend on
the time and place of the encounter or disturbance.
As noted earlier, most participants are satisfied with their outdoor
recreation experiences. The challenges discussed in the preceding
section, however, can lead to severe consequences if not managed
properly. In addition, the nature of the recreation experience limits
the manager's options in addressing the potential negative impacts of
trail use. Freedom, and freedom of choice in particular, are
essential for high-quality outdoor recreation on and off trails.
Multiple-use trail managers must be sensitive to this fact and avoid
restriction and manipulation whenever possible. The "minimum tool
role" proposed by Hendee, Stankey, and Lucas (1990) for wilderness
management is an appropriate guideline for the management of most
multiple-use trails as well. They advocate using the least intrusive
measures (whether physical or managerial) that will still achieve area
objectives. This sensitivity is critical to maintaining the freedom
and naturalness so important to most trail-based recreation.
A wide variety of possible responses to addressing conflict problems
exists. For example, rail-trail managers responding to a survey by
the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy listed the following as techniques
they use to overcome conflict-related problems on their trails (listed
from most to least frequently reported):
In a recent National Park Service study of backcountry recreation
management in 93 national parks (Marion et al. 1993), managers listed
the following as actions they had taken to reduce visitor crowding and
conflict in backcountry areas (the numbers following each indicate the
percent of managers reporting that they used that technique):
- meeting with user groups
- expanding facilities
- police or ranger patrols
- enforcement of regulations
- brochures articles in newsletters or local newspapers
- imposing speed limits
- volunteer trail patrols
- partial closings
- bicycle bell give-aways
The following section discusses these and other possible responses
managers can take when faced with one or more of the safety, resource
protection, or user experience challenges noted in the previous
section. These responses are grouped into two broad categories:
physical responses and management responses. Management responses are
further broken down into three types: information and education, user
involvement, and regulations and enforcement. There is considerable
overlap between the physical and management responses as well as among
the three types of management responses. An effective program will
include many different tools.
- Inform visitors about crowded conditions they may encounter in
certain areas (56 percent)
- Encourage quiet behavior and activities (45 percent)
- Inform visitors about conflicting uses they may encounter in
certain areas (40 percent)
- Encourage use of less popular access points and backcountry
areas (38 percent)
- Encourage off-season use (29 percent)
- Designate trails for different types of visitor use (27 percent)
- Encourage visitors to use natural-colored equipment and clothing
- Encourage weekday use (14 percent)
- Segregate different types of visitor use by geographic area (12
- Discourage use during peak seasons (12 percent)
- Discourage weekend use (4 percent)
- Encourage outfitters and large groups to use lesser used areas
Strategies will differ depending upon whether the trail is an existing
one or one planned for new construction. There is no reason to wait
for any problem to occur before taking steps to address it. This is
especially true of conflict. It is always better to try to avoid
conflict before it becomes a challenge rather than try to reduce it
after it is entrenched. Responses may also be affected by factors
outside the manager's immediate control. Occasionally sharing trails
is not an option for managers or users such as when a private or
corporate landowner agrees to allow only certain activities (e.g.,
snowmobile use). These situations may occur as conditions of a lease,
easement, or other agreement.
A more common situation that can limit managers' options is overall
agency policy. See Keller (1990) for an excellent discussion of the
two general policy approaches that guide decisions on mountain bike
access (and access for other trail activities) to public lands.
Keller identifies a "trails open unless declared closed" policy and a
"trails closed unless declared open" policy. Although policies can be
changed, they form the context within which managers and users must
address conflict and promote cooperation.
Note that although many of the following approaches are directed
toward trail users, most require action on the part of trail managers
as well as users. Some strategies will require training for the
managers, staff, and volunteers who implement them. Conflict
resolution training for individuals facilitating initial meetings of
different user groups would be very helpful, for example. As pointed
out by Keller (1990) the land manager's approach to the issue can be
every bit as important as the proposal itself (p. 24).
Proper trail design, layout, and maintenance (or redesign and
reconstruction when necessary) are essential for user safety and
resource protection and are important contributors to user
satisfaction as well. Proper design includes more than aesthetics and
minimizing resource impacts. It can be used to encourage trail users
to behave in more appropriate ways. Influencing proper behavior
through the subtleties of design is preferable and often more
effective than attempting to do so after the fact through education
programs or regulations. For example, it is easier and more effective
to prevent shortcutting of switchbacks by designing climbing turns in
rugged, well-screened areas than by posting educational signs at
poorly designed switchbacks.
Different users often have very different needs and desires in terms
of physical trail attributes such as surface, slope, length, safe
sight distances, amenities, etc. Various standards and
recommendations are available for different user groups (see American
Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 1991; USDA
Forest Service 1991; Flink and Searns 1993; Ryan 1993; Seier 1990).
These needs and preferences are far from universal even within one
user group, however. Walkers, joggers, runners, hikers, people
walking dogs, and people pushing strollers are all pedestrians, for
example, but they do not have the same needs and desires in terms of
physical trail attributes or trail settings. The best physical
responses will always be dictated by specific local conditions.
Managers and planners should identify the present and likely future
trail users and determine the needs and desires of those users. Users
of different ages, motivations, activity preferences, etc., will have
different physical trail needs and preferences. Ryan (1993), for
example, suggests hosting a "community design workshop" for proposed
rail-trails to identify these needs and preferences.
Options. Here is a partial list (in no particular order) of physical
design, layout, and maintenance alternatives that can help avoid or
minimize trail conflicts:
Flink and Searns (1993) advocate designing trails with specific users
in mind to avoid conflict and unsafe trail conditions. They propose
the following six alternative layouts for land-based trails (pp.
- Provide adequate trail mileage and a variety of trail
opportunities in terms of terrain, difficulty, scenery,
etc. Trail impacts, including conflicts, may be due more
to the number of users on the trail than the types of
users present or their behavior. Therefore, one important
physical response option is to provide more trails and
perhaps different kinds of trails where possible and
appropriate. This will help disperse use and contribute
to user satisfaction.
- Use the least intrusive physical manipulation that will achieve
area objectives (Hendee, Stankey and Lucas 1990). Some physical
solutions can reduce the opportunities for some experiences sought by
trail users (e.g., manipulated or hardened surfaces can make solitude
and enjoyment of natural surroundings less achievable).
- Provide separate trails when necessary and possible. This may
be necessary only for problem sections. In other situations, whole
trails or separate systems should be provided for different uses.
McCoy and Stoner (1992) feel that providing separate trails for
different users groups has many drawbacks, however. They point out
that it can be expensive, cause resentment, be difficult to enforce,
and limit opportunities for communication and cooperation among users.
When separate trails are necessary, they suggest encouraging rather
than requiring single use and explaining the reasons for this strategy
at trailheads. This approach combines physical design with
information and education efforts. Advocates of multiple-use trails
see providing separate trails as a last resort. They feel positive
interactions among users on the trail is the best way to foster
communication, understanding, and a strong, cooperative trail
- Single Tread, Single Use -- The Appalachian Trail, for
example, is designed and managed primarily for hiking.
- Single Tread, Multiple Use -- Almost any urban,
multiple-use trail is an example of this type of configuration. The
W&OD Trail west of Washington, D.C., for example, is open to walking,
running, bicycling, in-line skating, and other uses on the same paved
- Single Tread Time of Use -- (i.e., different
types of use allowed on the single tread at different times of day,
days of week, season of the year, etc.). This concept is similar to
swimming pool regulations that set aside certain times for lap
swimming only. Snowmobile trails in that are open for multiple use
during parts of the year but are restricted to snowmobiling during
winter months illustrate this as do multiple-use trails that are set
aside for periodic special events such as "walk-a-thons." Beachside
trails in southern California that are closed to biking when the
lifeguard determines they are too crowded are a form of time zoning.
At such times a red light is lit indicating that bikers must walk
- Single Tread, Zoning for Multiple Use -- (i.e.,
different types of use allowed on different sections of the trail).
For example, the Heritage Trail east of Dubuque, Iowa, has one section
set aside for cross-country ski use in the winter while the rest is
available for snowmobiles. This type of zoning is also accomplished
through design on the Platte River Greenway near Denver. Urban
sections are paved and open to most nonmotorized uses, while some more
rural sections are surfaced in crusher fines and are unusable by
in-line skates and narrowtired bicycles.
- Multiple Tread, Multiple Use -- (i.e., different
treads provided for different types of users within the same
corridor). The heavily used Ojai Trail northwest of Los Angeles in
Ventura County has adopted this approach. A 10-foot-wide paved trail
for bicyclists and pedestrians runs parallel to a 10-foot-wide wood
chip trail designed for equestrian use. The two are separated by a
42-inch-high wooden fence. The Venice Beach Trail south of Los
Angeles separates two-way bicycle traffic from two-way pedestrian and
skater traffic using a yellow center line and stamps on the pavement
to indicate appropriate uses within each lane.
- Multiple Tread, Single Use -- (i.e., provide
different treads for various skill levels or preferences among the
same user type). Urban trails that include a hard-surfaced trail for
walkers with a nearby dirt path for runners illustrate this
configuration as do cross-country ski areas that provide a set track
on one side of a wider platform groomed for "skating."
Once a trail is physically in place, managers can still have a
tremendous influence on user safety, natural resource protection, and
user experiences. Management actions can take many forms, from doing
nothing to closing areas. The alternatives can be grouped into three
categories: information and education, user involvement, and
regulations and enforcement. Considerable overlap exists among these
three groups, of course. This is especially true of
information/education and user involvement (e.g., a volunteer trail
patrol provides information and educates users, involves users in
taking responsibility for their own trails and use, and may well
assist in communicating and enforcing regulations and preventing
resource damage). Information and education, user involvement, and
regulations and enforcement are discussed separately below.
- Paint a centerline on heavily used multi-purpose greenways.
This can help communicate that users should expect traffic in both
directions (Flink and Searns 1993) and encourage users to travel on
the right and pass on the left.
- Screen trails for sight, sound, and smells (e.g., exhaust fumes
from motorized vehicles). Design in buffers (physical, visual, etc.)
by using topography, vegetation, the sound of rivers, etc. to
insulate users from one another when possible. Add buffers as needed
on existing trails.
- Provide separate trailheads for different users.
- Separate uses at trailheads and for the first (most crowded)
stretches of the trail. These separate segregated trails could then
converge, perhaps a mile from the trailhead, after users are more
spread out. On the other hand, Attila Bality of the National Park
Service Southwestern Region advocates forcing all trail users to share
the same trail for some distance (e.g., a mile) before having
single*use or restricted-use trails diverge from the main trail if
necessary. His feeling is that users will only learn to understand
one another and share trails if encouraged to do so. Some may not
share unless forced to do so.
- Design in adequate sight distances.
- Build trails wide enough to accommodate the expected use. Many
sources and recommended standards are available for various user
groups (see American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials 1991; USDA Forest Service 1991; Flink and Searns 1993; Ryan
- Build trails wide enough for safe passing, and/or provide
- Design and construct trails to minimize erosion. Resource
damage attributable to a particular user group can cause
conflict as well. Numerous excellent sources of
information are available regarding trail construction and
maintenance techniques (See Flink and Searns 1993; Ryan
1993; Albrecht 1992; American Hiking Society 1990; USDA
Forest Service 1991; USDA Forest Service 1984; Proudman
and Rajala 1981; Birchard and Proudman 1981). Some
recommended actions to control erosion are:
- Drain the surface -- design for drainage, and install drainage
structures where needed. Excellent suggestions for options on
mountain bike trails are included in McCoy and Stoner (1992).
- Avoid steep grades.
- Use full bench construction (full trail tread supported by
undisturbed soil rather than fill) when possible.
- Design trails across slopes, not parallel to the fall line.
- Keep trails (especially inclines) in areas of
- Use trail-hardening techniques where appropriate (e.g.,
geo-tech fabrics, turf stone or tread support blocks, etc.).
- Minimize erosion at switchbacks on mountain bike trails
by keeping surface rough (slow speeds prevent
mountain bikers from locking brakes), providing rock
and log barriers at edges to prevent shortcutting
and speeding to outer edge, or using climbing turns
- Design to control speeds where necessary (e.g., where mountain
bikes are sharing trails with walkers). Obviously, these techniques
should only be used in situations where they will not create a safety
hazard. To control speeds, managers have attempted to:
- Vary the trail surface (e.g., add aggregate).
- Vary the trail terrain (e.g., no banked turns).
- Design to include frequent turns. But avoid sharp turns after
long straight sections on mountain bike trails since fast riders may
lock their brakes and skid into these turns.
- Add or leave barriers (e.g., rocks, roots, bumps, curves,
washboard surfaces, downed trees, narrow sections, waterbars, and
other drainage structures, bumps, or "roll and dip" sections as
described by McCoy and Stoner 1992). Be aware, however, that the
Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits building barriers that would
make a facility less accessible to persons with disabilities.
- Where trail systems consist of a combination of single-track
and road sections, design and manage so that single-track sections are
traveled uphill and the roads downhill. This will slow mountain bikes
on narrow sections and reduce skidding.
- Design entrances to and exits from loops at angles to encourage
one-way traffic where desired. (This reduces the problem of signing
for one-way traffic, which may lead some users to let down their guard
and not expect the oncoming traffic which may still occur.)
- Provide adequate facilities (toilets, places to tie horses,
- Have an effective maintenance program appropriate to the type of
trail and its use. Flink and Searns (1993, 298-299) consider such
programs essential for users' safety and experiences and provide an
excellent example for greenways. According to Ryan (1993), trail
maintenance programs should address, at a minimum, the following:
signs and markings, sight distance and clearance, surface repair,
drainage, sweeping and clearing, structural deterioration, and
illumination. She suggests involving the public in these activities
through adopt-a-trail or similar programs.
Uninformed, unintentional, unskilled, and careless actions by users
are often cited as the causes of many problems in outdoor recreation
areas (Roggenbuck 1992; Roggenbuck and Ham 1986). Many managers feel
that this is particularly true of trail-related problems. If this is
true, educating the public and persuading them to act responsibly
should be effective strategies for improving behavior on trails.
According to McCoy and Stoner (1992), "effective communication is the
best way to prevent user dissatisfaction and conflict." Ryan (1993)
advocates education as the key to solving problems associated with
mountain bike use and for promoting trail-user etiquette. Many others
echo the importance of trail-user education (Merriman 1988). Whether
the behavior being promoted is called trail etiquette, trail ethics,
trail courtesy, or trail sharing, information and education efforts
are almost universally supported as an essential strategy for
providing opportunities for high-quality recreation experiences.
Influencing human behavior through information and education is an
attractive alternative to controlling or coercing compliance through
more heavy-handed techniques that can impact recreation experiences
(Manfredo 1992; Lucas 1981). This preference is strongly held by
recreationists (Roggenbuck and Ham 1986) and seems to be shared by
most managers. Like other good things, however, even information and
education can be overdone. Lucas (1981) cautions managers against
providing too much information, especially in backcountry settings
where users may be seeking discovery and exploration.
Considerable literature exists on the use of information and education
in recreation settings. An excellent reference is Influencing Human
Behavior: Theory and Applications in Recreation, Tourism, and Natural
Resources Management, edited by Manfredo (1992). Particularly
relevant is the chapter by Roggenbuck entitled, "Persuasion to Reduce
Resource Impacts and Visitor Conflicts." He notes that a user's motive
for engaging in undesirable behavior will influence how effective
persuasion will be in changing the behavior. In terms of the five
types of undesirable visitor actions identified by Hendee et al.
(1990), Roggenbuck proposes that persuasive communication has low
potential for influencing illegal or unavoidable (e.g., human waste)
acts, but has very high potential for changing uninformed acts.
Similarly, persuasion has moderate potential to influence careless
acts (e.g., littering) and high potential of modifying unskilled
actions. Gramann and Vander Stoep (1987) categorize violations of
norms in parks into six types. Roggenbuck places them in the
following order in terms of how effective persuasive communication
would be in altering each. From the least likely to be influenced by
persuasion to the most likely, they are: status-conforming (i.e., do
it to be "in" with the group), willful, releasor-cue (e.g., seeing
others do it), responsibility-denial, unintentional, and uninformed.
Roggenbuck (1992) identifies three distinct conceptual routes to
persuasion and learning. Each has relevance to designing effective
information and education efforts to promote trail sharing.
The following information and education advice offered by Roggenbuck
and Ham (1986) applies well to any such efforts to reduce trail
conflict or promote trail sharing:
- Applied Behavior Analysis -- This approach addresses
the user's behavior itself and not beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, or
values that may be associated with it. This is most frequently
attempted through rewards, punishments, manipulation of the
environment, or behavioral prompts (e.g., written or oral
messages that state "Share the Trail"). Because this approach does
not deal with underlying beliefs or attitudes, however, it is not
likely to bring about long-term changes in behavior.
- Central Route to Persuasion (also called the "central
route to attitude change" by Petty, McMichael and Brannon 1992) --
This approach attempts to change behavior by changing the attitudes
and beliefs related to them. It attempts to get recipients to
consider the message more carefully and then agree with it. If
recipients consider the message and agree with it, they change their
beliefs and then act accordingly (one hopes in more desirable ways).
In other words, get users to consciously consider their actions rather
than spontaneously engage in behavior that may be undesirable (Vincent
and Fazio 1992). The central route to persuasion should have better
long-term effects because users' new beliefs and attitudes guide their
behavior now and in the future. For example, if a user considers and
agrees with a campaign promoting an attitude of "Treat Other Trail
Users the Way You Would Like To Be Treated," they might internalize
the message and act more considerately in the future. To be
effective, the user must be motivated to pay attention, be able to
understand and process the message, and have the necessary skills and
abilities to respond. According to Roggenbuck, the effectiveness of
the persuasion will be influenced by characteristics of the recipient,
the message, and the situation. Low-knowledge, first-time users are
generally easiest to persuade. Strong, well-supported, specific,
clear, relevant, interesting messages tailored to particular audiences
are most effective. Well-timed situations with adequate time and few
distractions are needed for central route persuasion.
- Peripheral Route to Persuasion (also called the
"peripheral route to attitude change" by Petty, McMichael and Brannon
1992) -- This approach applies when users are unable or unwilling to
give the message their attention or consideration. Therefore, little
attitude change or longterm effect is achieved. When users are
overloaded with information, they often block out managers' messages
or use simple decision rules (e.g., is the source credible or
important?) to determine their response. For users in a crowded and
distracting trailhead parking lot, for example, a poster of Clint
Eastwood with the caption, "Good guys share trails," may be more
effective than a carefully thought out, well-supported trail-sharing
brochure. Timing and some (but not too much) repetition of the
message are critical to the success using the peripheral route to
Programs become feasible and effective when managers are able to
identify clientele groups and their characteristics, place information
where people can easily receive it, provide information early in the
decision-making process, and present the information in an interesting
and understandable way (p. Management-62).
Identifying the particular users in need of the information is a
critical and often overlooked part of the education process. For
example, Matheny (1979) found that 14- to 17-year-olds were the users
most likely to shortcut switchbacks on trails. A successful campaign
to reduce shortcutting of trail switchbacks would specifically target
those users and do so in ways that would be interesting and compelling
to them. Similarly, information and education efforts to avoid or
reduce trail conflicts should be directed at the particular users
Information and education programs related to promoting trail sharing
should have one or more of the following objectives:
Trail etiquette and trail-sharing guidelines are found in many
brochures and other literature produced by a wide variety of trail
organizations and management agencies. Appendix 4 contains a
comprehensive list of specific examples of written materials that deal
directly or indirectly with avoiding or reducing trail conflicts by
promoting responsible trail use, trail sharing, etiquette, use
dispersal, low-impact use, etc. The names of the organizations
producing them are included, and their addresses can be found in
- Communicate why the trail is shared (Reese 1992).
- Communicate that cooperation can benefit all. Skye Ridley,
executive director of the Pikes Peak Area Trails Coalition, notes that
the challenge is to convince people that "it's cool to share trails."
- Teach about other users (especially similarities among users).
One study found mountain bike riders to be similar to hikers in many
respects. Although the riders had fairly accurate perceptions of
these similarities, the hikers did not (Watson, Williams, and Daigle
1991). Determining the similarities among different user groups and
documenting the extent to which trail users participate in multiple
trail activities could ease "us and them" feelings and reduce
- Communicate the consequences of problem behaviors (e.g., from
impact on other users to loss of access for offenders).
- Build consideration and trust.
- Teach trail ethics, including the following:
- Courtesy toward other trail users and concern toward the
environment (Keller 1990).
- Who should yield to whom and why.
- Respect and tolerance for others.
- Responsibility for resource protection.
- What interferes with other activities.
- Communicate physical and social trail conditions to help users
have more accurate expectations of what and whom they are likely to
find on a particular trail:
- Difficulty (grade, length, tread, etc.).
- Trail length and location.
- What types and numbers of users might be encountered. Ivy,
Steward, and Lue (1992) suggest communicating worst-case scenarios to
boaters to allow users to adjust their goals more appropriately. Some
managers point out that users have to be realistic and understand that
they will sometimes run into the "few bad apples" that exist in every
- Teach what causes resource impacts and how to minimize them
(e.g., "stay on the trail," "don't skid down hills," etc.).
- Reach users as early as possible. Many managers feel conflicts
are most severe near trailheads since users tend to be most congested
there. They suggest focusing education efforts at trailheads and in
the first mile or two of trail.
In addition to the existing programs and literature just noted, trail
managers and advocates use many other strategies for communicating
with and educating trail users. Many of these are listed below. Some
are noted by KuIia (1991), Ryan (1993), and Martin and Taylor (1981),
while the majority were suggested in conversations with trail
managers. Using a combination of the following approaches will
produce better results than relying on only one or two techniques.
When asked how they promoted trail etiquette, a survey of rail-trail
managers conducted by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy in 1991 found
that numerous methods were being used on rail-trails. The 78 managers
responding listed the following techniques. They are arranged here
from the most to the least frequently reported: signs, brochures,
ranger patrols, trail guides, presentations to civic groups,
presentations to children, visitor contact areas, volunteer patrols,
surveys, striping the trail surface, press releases, and trail-user
groups/word of mouth. When asked which of these were the most
effective, ranger patrols were mentioned most frequently followed by
signs and brochures.
- Brochures, flyers, pamphlets, newsletters, and other printed
- Maps, guidebooks, visitors' guides, etc. These can incorporate
trail regulations, low-impact and shared-use messages, information to
disperse use, alternative routes, as well as the reasons for the
- Interpretive rides/walks/etc., by land management staff.
- Presentations before clubs, retailers, school groups, etc.
- Videos (e.g., "In Their Shoes" produced by Arizona State
Committee on Trails).
- Volunteer trail patrols.
- "User swaps." This concept builds on the very successful "ROMP
and STOMP" events named after the social gatherings between an
equestrian group and a mountain bike club called Responsible Organized
Mountain Pedalers (ROMP) in California. These joint rides and social
events promoted communication between the groups, gave users the
opportunity to try the other's trail activity, and also desensitized
the horses to mountain bikes. This concept can be extended to become
user swaps between any or all trail activities.
- Slide shows.
- Multi-use trail educational kits for schools (Isbill 1993).
- Joint planning meetings.
- Public meetings.
- Role modeling by rangers and others.
- Personal requests and information from peers.
- Leafletting on or off the trail (most appropriate at trailheads,
equipment stores, etc., rather than on the trail itself).
- "Trail Days" events.
- "Safety Days" on the trail for presentations, workshops (e.g.,
radar checks to teach bicyclists what the speed limit feels like when
they are riding), fun, and public relations.
- Information sent to recent purchasers of trail vehicles,
bicycles, or equipment.
- Trained personnel (staff or volunteers) stationed at trailheads,
visitor centers, campgrounds, etc. (e.g., use backcountry rangers or
other trail staff/Volunteers to inform and educate users about trail
- Fact sheets.
- Articles in magazines, newspapers, and other mass media outlets.
- Educational "roadblocks" on trails.
- Classes by retailers, land managers, or trail groups to teach
trail techniques and trail ethics, communicate area policies, etc.
- Multi-use surveys at trailheads.
- Similarities among user groups communicated and emphasized. The
"Mountain Bike Action Kit," for example, suggests that bicyclists
attending meetings or hearings "try not to look like bicyclists at
all!" (Bicycle Federation of America 1990, 7).
- Understanding of other user groups' concerns.
- Attendance at other trail-user groups' meetings.
- One-on-one peer education on the trail.
- Bumper stickers or window stickers.
- "Hang tags," developed by LIMB for bikes sold or repaired in its
area, have a mountain bike code of etiquette on one side and a
"positive people interaction" or "care for the land" message on the
other. This approach is also used by Recreational Equipment, Inc.
- Workshops on low-impact use, trail sharing, etc.
- Theme events to enhance activity image (e.g., "bike for birds").
- New users recruited and educated.
- Public service announcements (PSAs).
- Informational signs.
- Signs with positive messages and images for sport (e.g.,
promoting responsible mountain biking).
- "Burma Shave" signs (i.e., an entertaining, sequential series of
- "No Trace Race" or "No Trace Ride" events to provide a fun way
to communicate low-impact messages (Kulla 1991).
- Positive messages/images promoted by equipment manufacturers in
their advertising. This is done effectively by the National
Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
- Accurate information provided to users so they know what
encounters to expect on particular trails.
- Water bottles printed with "Rules of the Trail."
- Contests and awards for individuals or groups.
In many respects, user involvement is a special, intensive kind of
active, hands-on user education. By actively involving users in trail
planning, management, or conflict resolution, they are forced to work
together and, as a result, can begin to better understand and
appreciate one another's needs, expectations, and perspectives (e.g.,
user swaps such as "ROMP and STOMP" events). Trail advocates,
planners, and managers should attempt to work with unaffiliated
individual users and/or with organized user groups before resorting to
obtrusive regulations or trail closures. There are obvious
efficiencies in working with organizations, but attempts should also
be made to involve unaffiliated users. These independents are often
less informed and more in need of education. There may also be cases,
however, where members of an organized group have negative attitudes
toward other users or are uncooperative (Owens 1985). In these cases
as well, working with unaffiliated users is essential.
There are many compelling reasons to involve trail users in trail
planning and management. Most important, involving users does the
There are numerous options for how to involve trail users. The
following strategies are effective ways of involving users in any
aspect of trail planning or management. They can be used to involve
any trail-user group or can be used as ways to get different user
groups to interact constructively. Options include:
- Gives different users the opportunity to learn about and work
with one another.
- Gives different users the opportunity to understand one
another's needs and see their similarities with one another.
- Builds understanding, cooperation, and trust through working
- Gives trail advocates, planners, and managers an efficient
channel to learn from users and communicate with them.
With any user involvement effort, it is essential to involve the right
users early on. Recruiting users who are open-minded, constructive,
and willing to work together will make creative and successful
solutions much more likely. The East Bay Regional Park District, for
example, credits much of the success of its volunteer trail patrol to
the hand-picked group of constructive equestrian and mountain bike
leaders they recruited to head up the program.
- Public meetings (although this approach often is not seen as a
means for involving users for the long term, it can be used as one way
of initiating many of the approaches that follow).
- Trail advisory councils composed of representatives of various
- Joint trail construction or maintenance projects among different
- Joint trail construction or maintenance skills workshops among
different user groups.
- "Trail Days" events sponsored jointly by different user groups.
- Joint fundraising or lobbying efforts.
- "Adopt-a-trail" efforts.
- Volunteer trail groups. They can be organized around a
particular trail (the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is an excellent
example), a single trail activity, a coalition of different
- Cooperative lobbying for trails.
- Cooperation among organizations on trail planning.
- Volunteer trail patrols.
- "ROMP and STOMP" events.
- Volunteer "Host" programs.
- Land manager trail walks with affected user groups to discuss
problems and explore solutions (Keller 1990).
- Issues identification workshops, community design workshops,
public hearings, citizen advisory committees, surveys, and mass media
outreach are all suggested as effective public involvement tools for
creating or managing multi-use trails (Ryan 1993).
Involving trail users early on sometimes means that the users
themselves must initiate their own involvement efforts. For example,
the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and the Sierra
Club, a vocal opponent of mountain bikes on trails, recently began a
series of meetings to try to resolve their differences. The meetings
are being facilitated by professional mediators and will attempt to
establish an ongoing dialogue, develop mutually agreeable standards
and policies, and begin a joint public mountain biking education
program. Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI), is underwriting the
meetings (IMBA 1993).
There will always be some who cannot be influenced by positive, less
forceful means of persuasion (Baker 1990; Watson, Williams and Daigle
1991). Most trail-sharing programs will not succeed without
regulations and effective enforcement for those whose lack of
consideration could negate the positive impact made by the majority.
Regulations and enforcement efforts are most effective when developed
and implemented with the input and cooperation of affected user groups
(Ryan 1993 Kepner-Trego Analysis 1987). It is also important to
communicate to users the reasons for any regulations adopted. This
will help minimize misunderstandings and confusion among those
affected (McCoy and Stoner 1992). However, it is important to
re-emphasize that excessive regulations and enforcement can spoil
recreation experiences for many users. Conflict with other users
could be effectively reduced through elaborate surveillance systems
and heavy-handed enforcement where all inconsiderate users were
immediately "cuffed and stuffed" into awaiting police cruisers. But
the freedom and sense of escape so many trail users seek would be
lost. Only the minimum intrusion necessary to achieve area objectives
should be employed.
Well thought out regulations provide managers and their staffs with
the authority to enforce safe and courteous trail behavior (Flink and
Searns 1993) and help clarify for users what is expected of them.
Regulations should be posted prominently at trailheads and other
appropriate locations. There are three broad areas of regulations
that managers often consider.
- Speed limits
- Controlling vehicle speeds on trails is essential for user
safety as well as the peace of mind of other users. Although
education can be effective in this regard, speed regulations are
sometimes necessary. Ryan (1993) cautions that speed limits should be
used only as a last resort since they require consistent, ongoing
enforcement, may not improve real or perceived safety on the trail,
and may discourage bicyclists from using trails for commuting.
Addressing mountain biking in particular, Kulla (1991) suggests that
speeds must allow riders to stop in one-half the distance they can
see. Keller (1990) considers a single speed limit for an entire trail
unreasonable and advocates basing limits on sight distances and other
- Separating users can be an effective way of minimizing contacts
and reducing conflicts. This approach is not without its critics,
however. Arbitrary zoning may unnecessarily restrict use if the
potential for conflict is low (Owens 1985). Segregating, restricting,
or prohibiting users is advocated only as a last resort by Keller
(1990), who suggests dispersing use to guard against concentrating
mountain bikes on a small number of trails and possibly increasing
impacts there. Where appropriate, zoning can be organized around:
The following are other examples of regulations that have been or
could be established for multiple-use trails:
- Time of use (by day/week/month/season/year/etc.).
- Trail section (e.g., snowmobiling on half of a trail and
cross-county skiing on the other half).
- Type of trail experience sought. For example, some areas can
be set aside where conditions are best for solitude, self-reliance,
and challenge while other areas can be managed for more comfortable,
secure, and social experiences. The USDA Forest Service and Bureau of
Land Management accomplish this by using the Recreation Opportunity
Spectrum (ROS) to plan for and zone a continuum of different settings
areas where conditions are most conducive for achieving different
types of experiences (Clark and Stankey 1979). The six classes of
settings are "Primitive," "Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized,"
"Semi-Primitive Motorized," "Roaded Natural," "Rural," and "Urban."
The following factors are considered and managed when assigning areas
to particular classes and managing them to provide the desired
experiences: access, remoteness, naturalness, facilities and site
management, social encounters, visitor impacts, and visitor
management. Acknowledging that the products of recreation (and trail)
outings are experiences, and planning and managing to provide for a
wide range of opportunities for different experiences is more
realistic than managing for different activities (e.g., hiking,
off-road motorcycling, hunting, etc.). Trail users participating in
the same activities do not all desire the same trail experiences. See
Hammitt (1988) for use of the ROS as a means of analyzing and managing
- Right-of-Way -- Regulations on who must yield to whom are
helpful. For example, the IMBA "Triangle" could be enforced, whereby
bicyclists yield to pedestrians, and pedestrians and bicyclists both
yield to horseback riders. Some managers would also like to see this
modified into a "Yielding Square" that would include the
responsibilities of motorized users to those they meet on the trails.
- Forbid cutting of switchbacks.
- Mandate one-way travel on certain trails.
- Require bicyclists to walk their bikes in congested or
conflict-prone areas or during congested times.
- Require bicycles to have bells as is now the case on trails
managed by the East Bay Regional Park District in California.
- Close trails or trail sections during sensitive seasons (e.g.,
muddiest times or wildlife breeding times).
- Charge user fees (to help fund trail programs or disperse use).
- Designate appropriate places to tie horses.
- Require completion of a trail-sharing and/or minimum impact
course to be eligible for a mandatory trail permit.
- Require users to repair any impacts their use might have
caused (e.g., after a major motorcycle event or large group equestrian
- Require users to stay on the trails.
- Close certain sections, areas, or types of trails (e.g., no
mountain bikes on crowded single-track trails).
- Enact a "Model Path User Ordinance" like that of King County,
Washington, which contains 10 articles covering issues from littering
to respect for other users.
How to gain compliance with necessary regulations has been a great
challenge in many trail areas. This is especially true where land
areas are large and budgets are lean. The following are important
considerations for determining how to enforce regulations on trails:
The previous section presents some of the many physical and management
responses available to attempt to avoid and minimize conflicts on
multiple-use trails. All of these have been employed on multiple-use
trails with varying degrees of success. The right choice for any
particular situation will depend on many local factors and involve
some experimentation. General principles to guide responses are
offered in the next section. In general, though, using a strategy
that employs a combination of techniques with a long-term perspective
is best. The city of Edmonton, Alberta, for example, has had good
results with an integrated program of design, social marketing,
education, regulation, and enforcement for its trail system.
- Inform users of the regulations:
- Post regulations at trailheads and include them in trail
brochures and on maps (Ryan 1993). Ryan also suggests communicating
why and how the regulations will be enforced and what the applicable
- Post and enforce regulations from the very beginning on
newly opened trails. Establishing desirable patterns of behavior from
the start is far easier than trying to change bad user habits later
- Some feel using wordings such as "Not Recommended" rather
than "No" in messages produces a more cooperative atmosphere and
better compliance (McCoy and Stoner 1992). Many managers, however,
feel that offending users will take advantage of more lenient
- Communicate the reasons for regulations to the users affected.
For example, communicating to mountain bikers that "up trail and down
road" rules for travel directions are enforced to help keep speeds at
safer levels and skidding at a minimum may help with compliance.
- Enforce rules and regulations consistently to assure that
there is no perception of discrimination among different user groups.
- Employ a variety of on-site enforcement personnel if possible
- Peer policing programs (e.g., peer pressure).
- Volunteer trail patrols.
- Uniformed enforcement officers.
- Cooperative agreements with local law enforcement and fire
- Consider sentencing trail offenders to work service on the
trail as part (or all) of their penalty (Goldstein 1987 as cited in
- Communicate emergency procedures for users and emergency
Unfortunately, there are cases where conflict has degenerated to the
point where the only feasible recourse is direct intervention by
experts trained in conflict resolution. Even binding arbitration may
be necessary and appropriate in some cases where the techniques
mentioned above were employed too late or too tentatively.
Multiple-use ("shared-use") trails are an efficient, economical, and
increasingly common way to provide trail opportunities. Due to
limited rights-of-way, multiple-use trails are sometimes the only
alternative. Through thoughtful planning and diligent management,
such trails can provide safe, high-quality recreation experiences
without unacceptable damage to natural resources. However, the
conflicts that sometimes accompany shared use of trails can be very
emotional and are not issues that managers are likely to eliminate
altogether. With time, patience, commitment, and cooperation among
users and between users and managers (McCoy and Stoner 1992) as well
as diligent and aggressive planning and management, shared-use trails
can be an excellent way to accommodate many types of users with
There is no one best way to accommodate multiple uses on the same
trail while at the same time avoiding (or at least minimizing)
conflicts. The best approach will always be dictated by local
conditions and the resources available. However, the literature
reviewed and the trail manager input received do provide considerable
guidance. Based on this information, 12 principles are offered for
minimizing conflicts on multiple-use trails.
- Recognize Conflict as Goal Interference -- Recreational
conflict can best be understood as "goal interference attributed to
another's behavior" (Jacob and Schreyer 1980, 369). Therefore, trail
conflicts are possible among different user groups, among different
users within the same user group, and as a result of factors (e.g.,
lack of tolerance for others) not related to a user's trail activity
- Provide Adequate Trail Opportunities -- Offer adequate
trail mileage and provide opportunities for a variety of trail
experiences. This will help reduce congestion and allow users to
choose the conditions that are best suited to the experiences they
desire. As in the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS), this will
require a focus on trail experiences as opposed to trail activities.
Opportunities for different trail experiences can be maximized by
providing trails that vary in terms of terrain, difficulty, access,
remoteness, naturalness, facilities and site management, social
encounters, visitor impacts, and visitor management.
- Minimize Number of Contacts in Problem Areas -- Each
contact among trail users (as well as contact with evidence of others)
has the potential to result in conflict. So, as a general rule,
reduce the number of user contacts whenever possible. This is
especially true in congested areas and at trailheads. Disperse use
and provide separate trails where necessary after careful
consideration of the additional environmental impact this may cause.
Recognize that separating trail users may limit opportunities for
communication, understanding, and eventual cooperation among different
- Involve Users as Early as Possible -- Identify the
present and likely future users of each trail and involve them in the
process of avoiding and resolving conflicts as early as possible,
preferably before conflicts occur. For proposed trails, possible
conflicts and their solutions should be addressed during the planning
and design stage with the involvement of prospective users (Ryan 1993,
79). New and emerging uses should be anticipated and addressed as
early as possible with the involvement of participants. Likewise,
existing and developing conflicts on present trails need to be faced
quickly and addressed with the participation of those affected.
- Understand User Needs -- Determine the motivations,
desired experiences, norms, setting preferences, and other needs of
the present and likely future users of each trail. This "customer"
information is critical for anticipating and managing conflicts. This
process must be ongoing and will require time, patience, effort, and
sincere, active listening.
- Identify the Actual Sources of Conflict -- Help users
to identify the specific tangible causes of any conflicts they are
experiencing (e.g., "teenagers partying and littering at Liberty
Campground," "horses fouling the water at Peabody Spring," "mountain
bikers speeding down the last hill before the Sills Trailhead," etc.).
In other words, get beyond emotions and stereotypes as quickly as
possible, and get to the roots of any problems that exist.
- Work With Affected Users -- Work with all parties
involved to reach mutually agreeable solutions to these specific
issues. Users who are not involved as part of the solution are more
likely to be part of the problem now and in the future. For example,
the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is considering "full and balanced
representation" of key user groups on its county committees as it
plans sections of its new trail (Isbill 1993).
- Promote Trail Etiquette -- Minimize the possibility
that any particular trail contact will result in conflict by actively
and aggressively promoting responsible trail behavior. Use existing
educational materials or modify them to better meet local needs.
Target these educational efforts, get the information into users'
hands as early as possible, and present it in interesting and
understandable ways (Roggenbuck and Ham 1986).
- Encourage Positive Interaction Among Different Users --
Trail users are usually not as different from one another as they
believe. Providing positive interactions both on and off the trail
will help break down barriers and stereotypes, and build
understanding, good will, and cooperation. This can be accomplished
through a variety of strategies such as sponsoring "user swaps," joint
trail building or maintenance projects, filming trail-sharing videos,
and forming Trail Advisory Councils.
- Favor "Light-Handed Management" -- Use the most
"light-handed approaches" that will achieve area objectives (Hendee,
Stankey, and Lucas 1990). This is essential in order to provide the
freedom of choice and natural environments that are so important to
trail-based recreation. Intrusive design and coercive management are
not compatible with high-quality trail experiences.
- Plan and Act Locally -- Whenever possible, address
issues regarding multiple-use trails at the local level (Keller 1990;
Kulla 1991). This allows greater sensitivity to local needs and
provides better flexibility for addressing difficult issues on a
case-by-case basis. Local action also facilitates involvement of the
people who will be most affected by the decisions and most able to
assist in their successful implementation.
- Monitor Progress -- Monitor the ongoing effectiveness
of the decisions made and programs implemented. It is essential to
evaluate the effectiveness of the actions designed to minimize
conflicts; provide for safe, high-quality trail experiences; and
protect natural resources. Conscious, deliberate monitoring is the
only way to determine if conflicts are indeed being reduced and what
changes in programs might be needed. This is only possible within the
context of clearly understood and agreed-upon objectives for each
trail area. Two existing visitor impact management flameworks do
consider area objectives and offer great potential for monitoring
trail settings and trail use impacts:
- Visitor Impact Management System (VIM) -- This model,
developed for the National Park Service by the National Park and
Conservation Association, assists managers in setting objectives,
selecting impact indicators, and monitoring impacts against measurable
standards set for each area (Graefe, Kuss and Vaske 1990).
- Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) -- This system was
developed by and for the USDA Forest Service and operates much like
the VIM framework (Startkey, Cole and Lucas 1985).
Maintained by Jim Frost.