Student Research Paper
Date of Creation
American public lands provide significant outdoor recreational opportunities that enhance an individual's physical and mental well-being. Hiking is an example of a highly accessible and affordable recreational activity that is popular and easy for people to engage in no matter how experienced they are. While hiking has improved the well-being of many individuals, its impacts on local ecosystems are often disregarded. For our research, we focused on the impacts that hikers deviating off-trail may have on a local ecosystem in Michaux State Forest in Southern Pennsylvania. Through partnering with the foresters at Michaux State Forest and using AllTrails data, we identified heavily trafficked, unmaintained trail areas and conducted numerous field visits to observe the ecological impacts of this continued off-trail use. At each of the sites, we set up trail cameras in order to measure trail traffic, measured trail dimensions at numerous locations, and used quadrats to examine noticeable impacts on ground cover and plant ecology. We found substantial off-trail use at Michaux State Forest, from legal trail “shortcuts” to fully illegal trails. Surprisingly, we found no evidence that off-trail use impacted overall vegetative cover. In all of the study sites, the official trail was wider than the beginning of the illegal trail area and the beginning of the illegal trail was wider than the trail at the placement of the trail camera. For future analysis, we recommend that soil analyses and longer data collection periods potentially through different seasons should be conducted, as our quadrat photos and physical observations were limited due to the leafy ground cover. Our recommendations for future management include increased signage intended to prevent off-trail travel as well as improved hiker education on the principles of Leave No Trace.
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Biesecker, Diana; Doherty, Quinn; and Ganjon, Kevin S., "Occurrence and Ecosystem Effects of Hiking Off-Trail in Michaux State Forest" (2022). Student Publications. 1021.