Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2016

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Cultural and Environmental Resource Management

Committee Chair

Jessica Hope Amason

Second Committee Member

Kari I. Gunderson

Third Committee Member

Robert Perkins

Fourth Committee Member

Rodrigo Renteria-Valencia


In the face of declining trail maintenance budgets and increasing recreational use, we must develop a critical understanding of trail culture, including the motivations, perspectives, and experiences of various users and how they intersect with one another. Trail use on National Scenic Trails (NSTs) may represent a deeper symbolic yearning to seek out meaningful connections with nature, self, and community. This study seeks to understand: (1) How trails are built and paved with meaning, (2) how trails foster and sustain social, symbolic, and material landscapes, through performance of work and leisure; and (3) the relationship between the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) as an idea, and the National Trails System (NTS) as its practice. NSTs provide an ideal backdrop for studying how such connections and relationships are formed and sustained. Using ethnographic methods, this research will provide a descriptive account of the emergent cultural domain of trail builders and trail users, as two deeply immersed stakeholders. Washington State is the terminus for two intersecting National Scenic Trails: the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) and the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), making it an ideal study area for understanding cultural phenomena associated with deeply immersed trail culture. Understanding the well-developed trail culture on the PCT may help provide insight for management challenges associated with the emerging trail culture on the newly designated PNT to provide guidance for better management of NSTs and, to some extent, all trails.