COVID-19 compliance among urban trail users: Behavioral insights and environmental implications

Ingrid E. Schneider, Megha Budruk, Kim Shinew, Christopher J. Wynveen, Taylor Stein, Deonne VanderWoude, William W. Hendricks, Heather Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public green spaces provide physical and mental respite, which have become essential and elevated services during the COVID-19 pandemic. As visitation to public parks and recreation areas increased during the pandemic, the challenge of maintaining visitor safety and protecting environmental resources was exacerbated. A key visitor safety practice during the COVID-19 onset was maintaining a physical distance of six feet (1.8 m) between groups. A novel data set documented and compared physical distancing compliance and off-trail behavior on multiple-use trails across multiple states and within select U.S. communities, attending to the impact of select environmental factors. Nearly 6000 observations revealed physical distancing compliance varied and the environmental factors of trail width, density, and signage influenced its variability. Similarly, off-trail movement was related to trail width and density. Clearly the environment matters as people negotiate the ‘new normal’ of physical distancing during physical activity and outdoor recreation participation. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and likelihood of future health crises, this project provides important information and insight for trail and other public green space management, monitoring, and modelling moving forward. Management implications: As both trail width and visitor density impacted physical distancing, a combination of trail design that accommodates distancing requirements and density management practices that provide sufficient trail user spacing is essential to retain safe and active trail use. Off-trail movement was influenced by both trail width and density, so ensuring safe off-trail spaces exist and using durable off-trail materials can minimize disturbance and protect visitors. Signage is inconsistently significant to influence trail-compliant distancing behavior, but optimizing its placement and content may improve effectiveness. Compliant trail behavior varied by trail width, visitor density, and trail location; therefore, site-specific information is necessary to understand possible visitor behavior and design/implement mitigation strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100396
JournalJournal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Off-trail behavior
  • Physical density

  • Physical distancing
  • Signage
  • Trail width

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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