Posted 10:29 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Banner says "Tourism Research Institute" with an image from the bluffs. The mission of the Tourism Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is to conduct and facilitate tourism and recreation related research activities.

Students and faculty work to align community vision with the building of future trails

By Dan Plunkett, UWL associate professor of Recreation Management

Warm weather, sunshine and the smell of fresh outdoor air. It all means one thing. It’s time to get outside! You may head to a local trail, awaiting that first deep breath at the top of your favorite lookout. Trails offer many benefits. 

  • They enhance the quality of life for residents by providing health and social benefits, among others.
  • They create the opportunity to bring new people (tourism) to your community because the trails are something they don’t have where they live.
  • They add economic value, because of the unique experience they bring to visitors and residents alike.

But what if your community is lacking trails or trails that meet your recreation activity interests?

UW-La Crosse faculty and students with the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) and Recreation Management program frequently conduct trail research to assess the need for and value of recreational trails. 

Area projects

With the guidance of UWL Associate Professor Dan Plunkett, UWL students met with community members in the City of Rushford Village, Minnesota, to gather information to create recreation trail proposals that would meet community interests and needs.

Spring Grove, MN project

Working through TRI, spring 2019 students in a recreation facilities planning course proposed a sustainable fat tire bike trail with possibilities for multiple use for the community of Spring Grove, MN. With the guidance of Dr. Laurie Harmon, students met with community members to gather information so they could create trail proposals that would meet community interests and needs. The community engagement effort provided students with a valuable hands-on learning experience, while the community received four trail proposals designed based on projected recreation trends, an inventory of what the area has to offer, and community input.

Rushford, MN project

TRI is engaged in a similar project with the community of Rushford Village, MN. In a prior survey conducted by the city, the community identified trails as the top amenity they would like to see brought to the area. Those findings led to the city partnering with TRI to identify why the community wants trails, learn more about how they’d like to use trails, and where they’d like to see more trails. Under the guidance of TRI director, Dr. Dan Plunkett, students in a civic engagement in recreation course are currently meeting with members of the community to gather this information, so students in the fall facilities planning course can once again develop trail proposals that meet community needs.We know access to outdoor recreation is important in every community, but what that looks like depends on the community. In the examples discussed here, research like this helps communities envision what trails look like for them. What do we want? What don’t we want? Having this information, and developing proposals that align with a community’s vision, allows community planners to move forward with building something that works. One plan might not work in every community, but communities can find a plan that works for them. So, as you get outside this spring, be thankful for the recreational opportunities you have. They likely involved many people and planning. Hopefully you could be involved in the development of future recreation opportunities.

Reminder: Use trails responsibly

Now is a great time to remind the community of how to use trails responsibly. Whether it’s the spring thaw, or the days after a heavy rainfall, trails need time to dry out. ORA Trails’ website is a great resource before you go out. ( Also, use clues around you to determine what trail conditions might be like. Standing water on streets, yards or sidewalks may be an indication that trails aren’t dry enough to use. Or visit a paved or gravel trail that isn’t as impacted by saturated conditions.
Dan Plunkett, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the UW-La Crosse Recreation Management program and the director of the UW-La Crosse Tourism Research Institute.

Learn more about UWL Recreation Management