How did this project come about?
I am an environmental social scientist who studies water and community. Here in Easton, we have three amazing rivers: the Delaware, the Lehigh, and the Bushkill Creek. All three of these rivers have outdoor recreation trails nearby, which my family and I use on a regular basis. I started to observe that people from all walks of life use these trails, and I began to wonder about how the proximity and access to rivers related to trail users’ perceptions of environmental quality.
What were the goals of the survey?
We had three goals:
- to gauge if people of color felt included in the community of trail users
- to understand how trail users’ feelings about the trail related to their sense of inclusion
- to provide my partner organization with useful information about trail user behaviors and interests.
How was the survey conducted?
We selected six locations along trails throughout the Lehigh Valley and intercepted people as they walked, ran, or biked towards us. I had an outstanding EXCEL Scholar, Jenna Ellis ’19, who led a small team of Lafayette students in our fieldwork. We collected nearly 500 responses, which we are really proud of.
Who collaborated with you?
I partnered with Brian Greene, director of trails and conservation and data science at the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. He manages the D&L Trail programs and coordinates data collection for the organization. He also happens to be my husband.
What was the main challenge?
Our biggest problem was the weather: the summer that we conducted the survey there was record high precipitation, which kept people off of the trail.
What are your key findings?
When people have a stronger understanding of what the trail means to them—be that a place to exercise or enjoy nature—this understanding helps them to feel included among other users. That being said, we also found that people of color feel less included among trail users than white people when controlling for things like age, gender, and types of trail use (like biking or walking). This finding is true even when people of color and white people use the trail an equal amount of time.
What are the possible impacts of your findings?
Our findings show that race/ethnicity shapes how people feel about participating in outdoor activities. With this information in hand, recreation managers can be encouraged to take extra steps to make their programs inclusive and to foster an appreciation for trails in diverse and inclusive ways.
What are the next steps?
This study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it will be submitted for review and publication this summer. We will also take a closer look at the relationships between sense of inclusion and environmental advocacy in the near future.