Date of Award



John Van Buren


There is not always a clear distinction between what constitutes responsible use and what constitutes overuse with regard to recreation and the environment. Even on a small scale, outdoor recreation will always leave a footprint. This paper addresses the ecological impact that the growth of outdoor recreation has had on the environment. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, it provides a holistic analysis of the issue from the scale of local vegetation to that of national policy and wilderness philosophy. Chapter one focuses on the immediate impacts of the overuse of hiking trails and the subsequent environmental degradation of at-risk areas. It analyzes data published in the Journal of Environmental Management regarding soil erosion, bird and fauna biodiversity, and related matters. Chapter two examines the historical and philosophical background with regard to American conceptions of wilderness and recreation. It focuses on the foundational philosophical doctrines of federal conservation organizations, highlighting why they are problematic. Chapter three analyzes the impacts of the outdoor recreation industry and the incentives to cultivate economic growth at the expense of environmental stability. Chapter four focuses on the politics of public land management by analyzing the relationship between state and federal conservation bodies, and their relevant histories. Addressing the concerns of previous chapters, chapter five proposes a new Trail Ethic based on the biocentric principles of Leopold’s Land Ethic.