Understanding how people use trails is key to building a healthy community in Delaware. However, we don’t have empirical data from trail users of the Jack and Markell Trail. In this project, we aimed to understand how people use the JAM trail by conducting intercept surveys.
We found that most trail users are driving to the trail, and using the trail for recreational purposes. The most common intention of using the trail is to exercise, and the most popular activity is walking. Trail users have positive impression of the Foot Bridge area throughout the survey.
Limitations and Future Directions
We recognize the following limitations for this study. First, the sample size was small (total N = 306). Studies with small sample sizes are prone to statistical artifacts. We can miss the true differences in the analyses (Type II error, Perugini, Gallucci, and Costantini 2014). We can also find differences that are not true by repeating small-sample studies (Type I error, Fraley and Vazire 2014). Thus, we recommend interpreting these results as a first attempt to understand the trail users’ experience at the Jack A. Markell Trail. We recommend against relying on the current results to make high-stake decisions. Instead, we recommend conducting future studies with more sample size to validate any of the findings.
We observed that participants at the Foot Bridge location reported favorable ratings, especially for the questions about liking, need satisfaction, and maintenance. Since the Foot Bridge is a very scenic area, these responses may contain biases akin to the halo effect—evaluating a characteristic positively, based on a positive evaluation of another characteristic (Nicolau, Mellinas, and Martín-Fuentes 2020). For example, participants can report that they are satisfied with the availability of trash bins at the Foot Bridge area purely because they liked the area, regardless of the availability of trash bins. That being said, we also observed that the Foot Bridge location received comparable ratings with other locations (e.g., “availability of programs” question). Thus, we suggest that the influence of the halo effect may be minimal.
We conducted data collection infrom November to December of 2021. We do not know if the current results generalize to the trail users who use the trail outside of the data collection period. For example, some trail users may only use the trail during summer, but not during fall or winter. In future studies, we suggest conducting data collection throughout the seasons to include a wider population of trail users.
Lastly, we highlight the public trail is an asset to all community members, and thus we also should ask questions to other community members who are not currently visiting the trail. We acknowledge that the current study design did not include voices of the community members not on the trail during our data collection. We can ask those who are not currently using the trail to identify the areas for improvement (e.g., Is accessing the trail difficult?). One avenue for a future study is to survey the community members surrounding the trail. To do so, we may consider cultivating relationships with local community organizations or groups that share visions on improving the parks and trails.