This report provides an overview of international research on recreational trails, and presents results from a Swedish case study on trails in the southern Jämtland mountains.
The report consists of three parts, beginning with a literature review on recreational trails in non-urban areas in international research. In this section, a quantitative literature review was conducted and 195 papers on recreational trails published in academic journals were reviewed and categorized, in order to gain insights on where there is research on trails, what trails have been assessed and what methods have been used, what trail activities and trail functions have been researched, and where research gaps remain. Results from the literature review reveal that research on recreational trails has been given increased attention within the academia, as the majority of the reviewed papers were published between 2000 and 2016. Results also show that research is geographically uneven, with a majority of the studies being conducted in the USA and Australia and little research has been conducted in Asia, Africa and South- and Central America. The literature review also reveal that research on different trail types and trail functions is limited, with a majority of the studies researching the trail types traditional backcountry trail and wilderness track, i.e. trails in natural settings and/or remote wilderness areas. Research was primarily based on natural sciences with an emphasis on environmental and ecological aspects of trails, such as erosion and wear and tear on the surrounding environment, and there was less research on social aspects of recreational trails, such as conflict management and public health. The trail-based activity dominating research is hiking, although there appears to be an increase in studies researching multiple activities. Based on the findings of the literature review, it is suggested that future research on recreational trails should stimulate studies in under-represented regions, and a need for more studies on winter use is recognized. Also, there is a need for studies looking at the opportunities and challenges of multiple-use trails, as well as studies looking at conflicts associated with trail use.
The second part of this report concerns the case study area and visitors’ trail use. Findings from an on-site visitor survey from the summer of 2013 is presented. This visitor survey was conducted in the study area to collect information on visitor attitudes, experiences and preferences, and for this report, only questions about trail usage and attitudes towards trails have been used in the analysis. For this report, analysis of the questions regarding trails in the survey aimed to capture Swedish and international recreationists’ and tourists’ use and perceptions about trail management and conditions of trails. Some survey questions are also compared with a previous visitor survey done in the same area in 1999 to capture if there are any changes over time regarding Swedish visitors’ attitudes. Results show that the availability of marked trails is important to both Swedish and international visitors, and that these two visitor-groups have similar thoughts regarding the importance of the availability of marked trails. Just above 80 % think that the availability of marked trails is an important factor when they decided to visit the area. Results from the on-site visitor survey also show that the majority of the visitors use trails during their visit. A majority of the respondents also think the quality of the marked trails is good or very good. Only 4% of the international and the Swedish respondents respectively, state that trail quality is bad.
The third part of the report concerns stakeholders’ perceptions of trails in the case study area. Results from this section is based on answers from a web-based survey about trails in the southern Jämtland mountains that was distributed to stakeholders in the case study area, and a two-day workshop that was organized among stakeholders with the purpose of discussing current and future use/management of trails in the southern Jämtland mountains. Stakeholders represent Sami organizations, tourism organizations and entrepreneurs, local service providers and lodges, and public authorities, both from Norway and Sweden. The survey concerned questions regarding the role of trails in general and potential conflicts associated with trails, marked trails in the area, historical trails and unmarked trails, and the respondents own use of trails in the study area. Topics discussed during the workshop included definitions of trails, how they are used and their importance; if current trails fulfil the intended purpose; management and information; and conflicts associated with trails in the area. Future needs were also discussed, as well as new trails and changes in the trail system; future challenges in trail management, finance and responsibility; future challenges and solutions; and future co-operation between Sweden and Norway regarding trails. Key findings from the survey and workshop among the stakeholder group in the southern Jämtland mountains, reveal that trails are an important feature for successful management of this area. Their role to facilitate accessibility and visitor experiences, channel usage, protect nature, provide guidance and interpretation, facilitate reindeer herding, support nature protection and increase safety are important according to the stakeholders in the area.