This study found that walking trails in rural, southeastern Missouri communities are associated with the greatest increase in exercise for those most at risk of inactivity, particularly those who were not already regular walkers, have a high school education or less, or who earn less than $15,000 per year. Trails that were at least a half mile long, paved, or located in the smallest towns were associated with the largest increases in exercise.
This study found that even in very rural places, developed trails provide valuable recreation opportunities for residents in addition to attracting new visitors and spending by non-locals. The results also suggest that trails contributed to increased community pride and a modest increase in activity levels, with few problems from crime or vandalism related to the trails.
This study found that in southeastern Missouri, public health interventions to increase residents’ trail use, such as newsletters and fun walks, had no statistically-observable effect on residents’ walking habits or physical activity. A third of those who use the trail report increased overall physical activity levels since they began using the trail, suggesting while that trails can increase community physical activity, a primary challenge is getting residents to begin using them.