Photo above of work on the Cheyenne Mountain Trail by the Colorado Springs Gazette.
We recently conducted a survey of trail runners to better understand and measure their attitudes towards and involvement in trail maintenance, trail building and trail advocacy activities. With over 2500 survey respondents, we were excited to see a high level of engagement from our community on this important subject.
There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence and opinion about the relationship between trail runners and trails so we think the following survey results will help quantify this relationship and provide actionable suggestions for how we can all give back to the trails we love.
Based on this new information, we’re going to provide more resources for our trail running community and feature trail work programs that have proven successful in different parts of the country to help everyone #ConnectWithTheTrail.
Do you know about programs or ideas we’ve missed? Send us your trail work success stories and we’ll share them with our community as we work together to create better maintained and cleaner trail systems nationwide.
Here are some of the top take-aways from our trail work survey:
95% of survey respondents did not know we have a national directory of over 130 organizations involved in trail work. We do and you can find it here.
97% of survey respondents self-identified as trail runners. Almost exactly half of respondents had participated in some kind of organized trail maintenance, building, cleaning or advocacy.
For those trail runners who had not participated in organized trail work, they selected the following pre-written answers:
- 30% – I don’t have time.
- 18% – There are no groups near me that do trail work.
- 9% – I don’t feel like I have the skills required to do trail work.
- 3% – My local trail work group already has enough volunteers.
In addition to the four pre-written answers listed above, we also gave survey respondents an open text field to provide details or other reasons why they don’t participate in trail work. Their responses ranged from having a lack of awareness of groups in their local area, to never being asked to help out, or even not knowing such a thing as trail work days existed. Some wrote that they do trail work on their own; activities such as moving rocks, trees or trash from trails while out on runs.
In addition to learning about why trail runners do or do not participate in organized trail work, we also wanted to know how often they participate in trail work.
- 13% – did organized trail work 5 or more days per year
- 27% – 2 to 3 days per year
- 16% – One day per year
- 44% – Did not participate in organized trail work
The federal government owns a large percentage of land in the Western United States where a lot of trail running takes place. We asked which agencies survey respondents have done organized trail work with. Respondents could pick more than one.
- 17.1% – US Forest Service (193 million acres under management)
- 6.6% – Bureau of Land Management (248 million acres under management)
- 6.4% – National Park Service (84 million acres under management)
- 1.5% – US Fish & Wildlife Service (150 million acres under management)
We often think about “doing trail work” as just physical labor on the trails. Knowing that there are many ways in which trail runners are involved in giving back to the trails, we asked what roles runners have filled. Respondents could pick more than one.
- 54% – Physical labor (“boots on the ground”)
- 20% – Donated money to a trail work group
- 6% – Are on the board or committee of a trail work group
- 5% – Do administrative tasks for an organization involved in trail work
Knowing that not all communities have the same requirements for trail running, we wanted to drill even deeper and learn what kinds of trail work is being done. Again, respondents could pick more than one answer.
- 86% – Maintaining existing trails
- 65% – Cleaning up trails (or “plogging”)
- 52% – Building new trails
- 22% – Designing trails or trail systems
- 20% – Mapping or surveying trails
- 18% – Taking overused or poorly built trails out of service
Did you know that doing trail work & maintaining a healthy environment can require specialized skills? We also wanted to find out how many survey respondents have some of those skills. Respondents could pick more than one.
- 4.0% – Sawyer (e.g. occupational term referring to someone who has training with a chainsaw – cutting, collecting, or processing trees, slash, etc.)
- 3.8% – Certified Crew Leader
- 2.0% – Wildlife Expert
- 1.6% – Environmental Designer
Now, here’s what you can do to get involved
Understanding how the trail running community is involved in trail work was just a first step. We also wanted to provide actionable suggestions for trail runners eggar to get involved and easy first steps for those folks who may be a little hesitant or intimidated by trail work.
“I’m ready to dig in!” Having a goal of participating in one trail work day per year is a great way to get started. Most trail work days are only about 4 hours of physical work while the rest of the time involves orientation to the days tasks and getting to know your fellow crew members, often over lunch. Find a trail work group near you in our national directory of over 130 organizations.
“I like picking up trash on trails.” Good news, there are many opportunities to keep your trails clean. You can:
- Go “Plogging” by yourself. Take a recyclable bag on a trail run and pick up trash. Pro tip: wear gloves.
- Join others at an organized trash clean up activity in your local park or on a section of trail.
- You, or an organization you are a part of, can adopt a section of trail and care for it. Check out the Pikes Peak Road Runners recent trail clean-up day in Colorado Springs.
- Leave No Trace conducts trail festivals, trail work events, and ‘facelift’ projects in every state. Checkout their website for upcoming initiatives.
“I want to help aren’t sure I can do hard physical work.” Caring for your favorite trail can be as easy as blocking short-cuts or rogue trails, picking up trash and reporting erosion issues. You can also:
- Ask your local land management agencies if they have trail ambassador or trail host positions or offer to help them with trail surveys.
- Join the “Friends of” group for your local park.
- Offer to do social media for a trail group. The trails need friends…..and “likes.”
- Got mad money skills? Fundraise for your local trail work group.
“OMG, are there really even more things I can do to get involved?” Yes, there are so many creative ways you can give back including:
- In Colorado’s Mount Evans and Lost Creek Wilderness areas, you can use a data collection app to report downed trees and/or washouts to organizations who repair them.
- If you’re a park official, plan, build, and cultivate good relationships with adjacent landowners.
- Learn about how your local government is managing its parks and recreational lands by attending a city or county park meeting. Even better, volunteer for a board position of your city or county park.
- Work with a landowner/permit holder to create interpretive signage/educational material for trails.
- Adopt-A-Trail programs are everywhere. Find them in national parks, along canalways, in the mountains, in cities, and practically everywhere.
- Provide education and outreach. If you have expertise in outdoor recreation, wildlife management, or bio-diversity, take that knowledge to the classroom and educate young people about the importance of the environment in which we live and how we can work to protect it.
Still can’t find a trail running group in your area that works on trails? Check with your local mountain biking club or shop. Mountain bikers are often found leading the way in trail work and would welcome trail runners and hikers to join the fun! Not only does this build connections with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts, it will develop new friendships and new respect for the trails.
Did you find our trail work survey and suggestions for getting involved helpful? Let us know and send us your trail work success stories so we can share them with the trail running community.