Users' Perceptions Of The Design And Value Of Hiking Trail Systems: A Comparison From National, State, And Regional Parks




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Landscape Architecture


Hiking trail systems are added to many park plans by today's landscape architects. Hiking trails are defined in this thesis as paths and trails, improved or unimproved, in park areas where nature is the primary environment, rather than of an urban environment in which sidewalks are the main areas that the public uses to walk and exercise. This thesis examines how the users of hiking trails perceive existing trail system designs and the value users acquire from well designed trails. Hiking trail users are motivated by improving physical health, relieving mental stress and enjoying scenery. This study looks at three different-sized parks: national, state, and regional. The hiking trails for these parks vary in type and construction. The study also supports the notion that public input is needed in the renovation of hiking trail systems. It suggests that public input on the renovation of older parks with hiking trails is needed to guide landscape architects toward the connection between hiking trail systems and better physical and mental health of the users. Increasing the public use of the hiking trails gives the landscape architect more opportunities to educate the public on environmental issues in the park. "The more visitors understand a park's features, the more they appreciate them, the more likely they will care for them and by caring, the chances of the park as a whole being protected are greatly enhanced. Human appreciation is, therefore, "value added" to parks "(Harmon and Putney, 2003). This research uses a combination of participant observations and quantitative surveys conducted on-site. The study identifies the users of the trail systems, and key elements of a well-designed trail system that can guide future design. These include structures, trail surfaces, signage, maintenance of landscape, and the health, safety and welfare of the public. Showing the connection between parks with hiking trails and a healthier population encourages the city and national planners to create more trail systems in green space areas. Every city and state has ongoing efforts to improve and expand the amount of their green space. Getting the public to back these initiatives is more easily accomplished by publishing studies that indicate the value to the public.