Trail user preferences and motivations to attend Alabama state parks

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University of Alabama Libraries

Alabama's state parks are important centers for outdoor recreation, and their trail systems are often key attractions for visitors. Therefore, enhancing the outdoor recreation experience through improved trail management can potentially increase park usage. The purpose of this study was to determine trail users' preferences and needs so that recreational managers can better use and allocate resources in the context of economic development to the state. A central research hypothesis was that level of expertise and involvement, i.e., recreational specialization, of trail users predicts trail preferences and behavior. Accordingly, a secondary hypothesis was that the employment of a designated trail ranking system in state parks, based on a standardized level of difficulty, would appeal to specialized users. Trail users' preferences and motivations to attend Alabama state parks were examined using an online survey via Qualtrics software. Over 1,000 surveys were taken by distribution of the survey link through hiking and biking organizations' listservs and Facebook pages, the homepage of Alabama State Parks, and through personal email correspondence. After analysis of survey responses, an objective of this study was to make recommendations to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on how to cater to experienced trail users, since such recreationists tend toward greater expenditures of time and resources than the general park user. Study results showed that experienced hikers tend to prefer an expansive trail system, and increasing the number of trails would make them more likely than the less specialized park visitor to travel greater distances to a state park. Experienced trail users seek well-mapped, multiuse trails with varying degrees of difficulty. A designated trail ranking system had no effect on drawing users to the state, as it was the least appealing feature of a park by all users. Recommendations to park managers include a more fully maintained, expansive state park trail system and well-mapped, easy to navigate trails.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Geography, Recreation and tourism