Surveys conducted throughout the country indicate the
heavy use of trails and the many ways in which people use trails for
both recreation and transportation. Surveys also show a high level of
public support for trails and paths, and a willingness to pay for these
The 1990 Iowa Statewide Recreational Trails Plan
found high levels of participation in trail activities - 90 percent
of respondents indicated that they had used local trails for walking
an average of 90 times during 1988. High levels of support were expressed
for continued trail development near home, especially multi-use trails
for bicycling and pedestrian activities. Interest in and support for
trails in Iowa are similar to patterns in other parts of the country.
Trails for All Americans, a report of the National
Trails Agenda Project, estimates that 155 million people walk for pleasure
and 93 million bicycle. Pathways for People,1
a 1991 poll conducted for Rodale Press, interviewed 1,255 people
in randomly selected households throughout the continental United States.
During the year preceding the poll, 46 percent (representing 82 million
adults) had ridden a bicycle and 73 percent (130 million) had walked
outdoors for exercise. Most walking and bicycling takes place on streets
and sidewalks, but the majority of respondents indicated they would
walk or bicycle more if safe paths, walkways and bike lanes were provided.
User counts have been conducted on a number of trails
throughout the country. Many trails have thousands of daily users. Estimates
of daily use levels for extremely popular trails, such as the Burke-Gilman
Trail in Seattle, reach as high as four to five thousand. The East Bay
Bicycle Facility in Rhode Island has as many as 8,000 daily users per
weekend day, which is four times greater than predicted.2
Many successful trails have far more modest use levels, but few fail
to show respectable use that generally increases over time. A study
of the Heartland State Trail in Minnesota found a 16 percent increase
in use levels from 1987 to 1989. Currently, the Heartland Trail sees
more than 47,000 users per year, while the Raccoon River Valley Trail
(RRVT) in Iowa sees more than 48,000 annual users, and the Elroy Sparta
Trail in Wisconsin hosts approximately 60,000 users per year.
A study of three rail-trails for the National Park
Service compares Iowa's Heritage Trail, the St. Marks Trail in
Tallahassee, Florida, and the Lafayette/Moraga Trail near San Francisco.
User data, adjacent landowner perceptions, and the economic impacts
of the trails are examined. This study found the following use trends:
- Annual use levels for all trails are in the hundred thousands.
- Bicycling and walking are the major trail uses.
- Male/female ratios are roughly equivalent.
- Incomes and educational levels are above average.
- The number of trail visits per year varies substantially with trail
location in relation to place of residence.
- The most highly ranked trail benefits or values for trail users
include aesthetic beauty and natural resource preservation.
These findings are consistent with the socio-demographic findings
of many trail surveys. The following sections discuss the above findings
in more detail.