Research on Trails

Facts and statistics can be bandied about easily but locating the source of the information is more difficult. Thus this bibliography has been prepared, giving citations and abstracts on research articles that discuss the relative benefits of trails -- from physical, economic, and social viewpoints. Readers are encouraged to read the entire articles themselves. They can be found or ordered at your local library.

Health Aspects
Economic Aspects
Social / Educational Aspects

Health Aspects

Baker, Elizabeth A., Bennan, Laura K., Brownson, Ross, Houseman, Robyn A., "Measuring the determinants of physical activity in the community:  Current and future directions," Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 71 #2 (June 2000, special issue): 146-158. 

This review article examines over 80 studies concerning the interpersonal and community factors involved in individual physical activity. Some of the factors shown to have an impact on whether or not a person engages in a regular exercise routine are social support, a sense of safety and community, and environmental and policy approaches.

Brownson, Ross C., Housemann, Robyn A., Brown, David R., Jackson-Thompson, Jeannette, King, Abby C., Malone, Bernard R., Sallis, James F., "Promoting physical activity in rural communities -- walking trail access, use and effects," American Journal of Preventive Medicine 18 #3 (April 2000): 235-241

One of the few studies of the use and effectiveness of walking trails. The study was done as part of the Bootheel and Ozark Heart Health Projects in Missouri, a collaboration between the Missouri Department of Health and the Prevention Research Center at Saint Louis University. The trails surveyed are primarily located in residential park areas within city limits; there are 13 trails in the Ozark counties and 8 in the Bootheel communities. The study found that people over 60, women, persons with more education, and persons with incomes of $35,000 or higher (an above average income for that area) were more likely to be regular walkers. A large majority of trail users (86.9%) felt very safe when using the trails.

Marcus, Pamela M., Newman, Beth, Moorman, Patricia G., Millikan, Robert C, Baird, Donna Day, Quqish, Bahjat, Sternfeld, Barbara, "Physical activity at age 12 and adult breast cancer risk (United States)," Cancer Causes and Control 10 (1999): 293-302.

The data for this study is taken from the Carolina Brest Cancer Study. Respondents were asked whether, and to waht extent, they engaged in four specific activities at age 12 (walking to school, biking to school, competitive training, performing vigorous household chores). Researchers found a modest inverse association of physical activity at age 12 with breast cancer risk. (In other words, women who had walked or biked to school, trained, or had household chores at age 12 were somewhat less likely to have breast cancer as adults, compared to women who had not been physically active at age 12). Reductions in risk were similar for both moderate and high levels of activity.

Pinkowish, Mary Desmond, "The walking well," Patient Care 33 #18 (November 15, 1999): 30-40.

This review article examines several studies published in the summer of 1999 which add to the rapidly accumulating evidence that walking helps lower the risk of coronary heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. One such study suggested benefits in neurocognitive function, in addition to body weight, self-esteem, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Salis, James F., Bauman, Adrian, Pratt, Michael, "Environmental and policy interventions to promote physical activity," American Journal of Preventive Medicine 15 #4 (1998): 379-397.

This review article examines seven published evaluations of environmental and policy interventions to increase physical activity. These range from simply posting signs to encourage the use of stairs versus elevators to creating supportive environments and strengthening community action.

Siegel, Paul Z., Brackbill, Robert M., Heath, Gregory W., "The epidemiology of walking for exercise: Implications for promoting activity among sedentary groups," American Journal of Public Health 85 #5 (May 1995): 706-710

The relative contribution of walking to overall leisure-time physical actvity participation rates was studied among respondents from the 45 states that parcipated in the 1990 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Walking appears to be an acceptable accessible exercise activity, especially among population subgroups with a low prevalence of leisure- time physical activity.

Troped, Philip J, Saunders, Ruth P., Pate, Russell R., Reininger, Belinda, Ureda, John R, Thompson, Shirely J., "Associations between self-reported and objective physical environmental factors and use of a community rail-trail,"  Preventive Medicine 32 (2001): 191-200.

A study of 413 randomly chosen adults in Arlington, MA on their use or non-use of the Minuteman Bikeaway. Increased distance to the trail and the necessity of crossing a busy street or going over a steep hill are factors associated with self-reported decreased Bikeway use. A GIS analysis showed these factors to be not statistically significant. Higher education levels and a sense of neighborhood safety were also associated with increased trail use.

Economic Aspects

Alexander, Leslee.  The effect of greenways on property values and public safety.  Denver:  Colorado State Parks, State Trails Program and the Conservation Fund, 1994 (117 pp) 

Crompton, John L.  The impact of parks and open space on property values and the property tax base.  2000.  114 pp.

Greer, Donald.  Omaha recreational trails:  Their use and effect on property values and public safety.  Omaha, NE:  University of Nebraska at Omaha, 2000, 52 pages (a power point presentation of his results is at

Moore, Roger, Graefe, Alan, Gitelson, Richard and Porter, Elizabeth.  The impact of rails-trails:  A study of the users and nearby property owners from three trails.  Washington, DC:  USDI, NPS, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, 1992.  145 (executive summary on the web).

Murphy, Michelle.  The impact of the Brush Creek trail on property values and crime.  Santa Rosa:  Environmental Studies and Planning, Sonoma State University, 1992.  17 pp.

Puncochar, Brian and Lagerway, Peter.  Evaluation of the Burke-Gilman trails’ effect on property values and crime.  Seattle, WA.  Seattle Engineering Deparment, 1987 (9 or 99 pp.) 

Siderelis, Christos and Moore, Roger.  "Outdoor recreation net benefits of rails-trails," Journal of Leisure Research 27 #3 (1995): 344++
Estimates per mile annual economics benefits of 3 rails-trails projects as $156,687, $534,432, and $258,822.  The trails studied were Heritage (Iowa), St. Marks (Florida), and Lafayette / Moraga (California). 

Smith, David.  A survey of landowner’s perceived views of property values and attitudes towards multi-use trails and trail users.  Phoenix:  Arizona State Parks and University of Phoenix, 1995 (78 pp.)

Social / Educational Aspects

Clark, Gordon, "The educational value of the rural trail: A short walk in Lancashire," Journal of Geography in Higher Education 21 #3 (November 1997): 349-362.

The term "rural" is used loosely as the trail described goes past a college campus and a water treatment plant, as well as a wooded area and a historic home. The author discusses cultural approaches to geography of a given area as observed by walking along the trail, and how he uses this type of fieldwork in college classes.


Data collected by Julie Still, Paul Robeson Library, Rutgers University.
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