Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Environmental Sciences

Thesis Type

Honors College

First Advisor

Dr. Kris Stepenuck

Second Advisor

Dr. Mindy Morales-Williams

Third Advisor

Dr. Walter Poleman


stream health, recreation ecology, embeddedness, soil loss, Vermont, first-order streams


Erosion of public hiking trails is a key management issue in Vermont. Previous studies have suggested a link between outdoor recreational land use, soil erosion, and diminished stream health. Trail development, maintenance, and use in Vermont is regulated through a series of state and local regulations. This study investigated the relationship between hiking trail character (trail age, visitation rate, and trail-stream crossings) and soil loss on trails and the relationship between soil loss, stream-bottom embeddedness, and stream health. Nine paired trail-stream sites and one undeveloped forested stream site (control) were monitored to determine stream-bottom embeddedness, macroinvertebrate community composition, and soil incision on trails. Regression analysis was performed to determine the relationships present between trail characteristics, soil loss, and embeddedness. The results did not indicate any significant relationships between trail character, soil loss, and embeddedness. Stream-bottom embeddedness was significantly negatively related to stream gradient, indicating that natural geography has more impact than recreational land use on sediment dynamics in forested streams. None of the stream sites were impaired, as indicated by macroinvertebrate community composition. The results of this study may suggest that current trail regulations are effective in minimizing the impact of public hiking trail construction and use on trail-adjacent streams. Future work could focus on monitoring trails throughout their lifespan to better understand the long-term effects of trail use on the surrounding landscape. Future studies could also examine which methods are most effective in measuring soil loss on hiking trails and sediment dynamics in headwater streams.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.