Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Stefan Leyk

Second Advisor

William Travis

Third Advisor

Jeffrey Writer

Fourth Advisor

Carol Wessman


This thesis utilizes Geographic Information Systems to model existing trails based on their vulnerability to degradation, as well as the suitability of wilderness landscapes to future trail development, whether that be through re-routes or entirely new tread construction. The introduction contextualizes trail use, impact and degradation in terms of wilderness management and is followed by a literature review uncovers spatial patterns associated with trail degradation from the field of Recreation Ecology. This information is then coded into spatial data and used to interpolate the likelihood of degradation in various areas and along various pre-existing trails in the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness. Results suggest that the every trail in the wilderness area is vulnerable to degradation and erosion for the majority of their lengths. Resilient segments on trails are few and far between, occurring much more frequently as single points rather than continuous lengths. Maps that model suitability across the entire wilderness area consistently show that valley bottoms and north facing aspects are ill-suited for trail routing, while south facing mid-slopes provide excellent resources for sustainable trail development. Despite some discrepancies between trail-scale interpolations and wilderness-scale models, both stress the importance of proper planning over continuous maintenance. The models could be improved by using feature extraction on National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) data, or using fuzzy overlays to create suitability grids that avoid interdependency. In addition, the models could be broadened to include managerial controls on degradation such as use type and use intensity.