Non-motorized Winter Recreation Impacts to Snowmelt Erosion, Tronsen Basin, Eastern Cascades, Washington

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Geological Sciences

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Many recreation impact studies have focused on summer activities, but the environmental impact of winter recreation is poorly characterized. This study characterizes the impact of snowshoe/cross-country ski compaction and snowmelt erosion on trails. Trail cross-sectional profiles were measured before and after the winter season to map changes in erosion due to winter recreation. Compacted snow on the trail was 30 % more dense than snowpack off the trail before spring melt out. Snow stayed on the trail 7 days longer. Soil and organic material was transported after spring snowmelt with −9.5 ± 2.4 cm2 total erosion occurring on the trail transects and −3.8 ± 2.4 cm2 total erosion occurring on the control transect (P = 0.046). More material was transported on the trail than on the control, 12.9± 2.4 versus 6.0 ± 2.4 cm2 (P = 0.055), however, deposition levels remained similar on the trail and on the control. Snow compaction from snowshoers and cross-country skiers intensified erosion. Trail gradient was found to be significantly correlated to net changes in material on the trail (R 2 = 0.89, ρ = −0.98, P = 0.005). This study provides a baseline, showing that non-motorized winter recreation does impact soil erosion rates but more studies are needed. Trail managers should consider mitigation such as water bars, culverts and avoiding building trails with steep gradients, in order to reduce loss of soils on trails and subsequent sedimentation of streams.


This article was originally published in Environmental Management. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Environmental Management


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