Use of outdoor recreational trails increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rails to Trails Conservancy found a 79% increase in trail use, and the Outdoor Industry Association reported an increase of 52.9% in outdoor recreation participation rates for U.S. residents in 2020 — the largest one-year jump on record.
New Hampshire has felt these impacts. Local land trusts and state and federal agencies work to broaden public engagement with trails, but the sudden, significant increase in outdoor recreation during the pandemic led to challenges such as increased trash left on trails, as well as parking lot congestion.
To address concerns stemming from increased usage of trails in Coös County, UNH Extension conducted research on trail stewardship, supported by a grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the NH Charitable Foundation.
Extension state specialist for community volunteers and manager of Nature Groupie Malin Clyde and (former) Extension state specialist Molly Donovan led a team that sought to understand the key issues, constraints and challenges to the stewardship of human-powered recreational trails in this region.
Key informant interviews are a qualitative research method using one-on-one interviews with community representatives who are knowledgeable on the research subject; this project included interviews with community stakeholders, land managers, trail groups and municipalities.
Trail intercept surveys were taken at the Presidential Rail Trail Route 2 parking area in Gorham and at Table Rock trailhead in Dixville Notch.
- Prioritize stewardship attention on the busiest trails.
- Explore partnerships to help restore trails or fix problems on highly impacted areas.
- Continue to strengthen the network of local volunteers to build social capital in the community while widening volunteer recruitment by targeting local community members.
- Inventory local businesses that are benefiting from trails to determine if they would partner on events, fundraising or volunteer recruitment opportunities.
- Promote user safety through tactics such as high-quality mapping, reliable signage and wayfinding, user education and systems for reporting trail safety incidents.