Leave No Trace
A study of environmental experience and impact on the Pacific Crest Trail
This research is important in order to implement future trail conservation practices on the Pacific Crest Trail, especially now that is has gained popularity in the past decade.
— Audrey Gregg
This summer Ben Sherman, a third-year environmental management and protection major, and Audrey Gregg, a second-year recreation, parks and tourism administration major, will spend three weeks hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to further their research on minimizing hiker impact on publicly managed lands.
The study “Education and Land Management on the Pacific Crest Trail,” overseen by Experience Industry Management Professors Marni Goldenberg and Keri Schwab, is built on more than four years of research on the PCT and the socio-psychological connection that hikers experience. Through that research it was determined that enforcing the importance of sustainable behaviors by hikers to preserve the quality and function of wilderness areas was needed.
Sherman and Gregg were awarded a $5,000 grant through the Baker and Koob Endowments to continue their research on hiker impacts. The pair will collect qualitative and quantitative data through in-person interviews and surveys with hikers encountered on the trail, as well as collect observational data on the trail conditions. “This research is important in order to implement future trail conservation practices on the Pacific Crest Trail, especially now that is has gained popularity in the past decade,” Gregg said.
The research will aid outdoor adventure land managers in how to best educate adventure tourists, such as PCT thru-hikers, on the importance of sustainable behaviors that preserve the quality and function of wilderness areas. The findings will have the potential to help alleviate the increasing pressure of a growing population on outdoor spaces.
“This furthers the leave-no-trace ethos of outdoor enthusiasts,” said Goldenberg. “It is about optimizing the experience while causing minimal environmental impact.” The PCT is a National Scenic Trail running 2,653 miles from Mexico to Canada, traveled by thousands of visitors each year, who hike portions of or all of the trail. While the PCT provides access and exposure to beautiful natural resources, it also exposes sensitive wilderness areas to environmental impacts such as erosion, trail degradation, litter, improper waste disposal, wildfire, and potentially harmful wildlife interactions.
Sherman, an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, said that he was first drawn to the project during the college’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program because of its focus on land management and the use of natural spaces. “I’m excited to get on the trail,” Sherman said. “Getting paid to do research of this caliber is a dream come true.”Ultimately, the pair hope to determine what clear and convincing communication tactics will best benefit accommodating the trails increased traffic without the increased degradation of the trail and surrounding fragile ecosystem.
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