Financing Recreational Trails Through Donations: Testing Behavioural Theory in Mountain Biking Context

How to cite this study

Nowak, M. and Heldt, T. 2023. Financing recreational trails through donations: Testing behavioural theory in mountain biking context. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, 42, 100603.


In Rörbäcksnäs, Sweden, researchers found that social information such as collective action and descriptive norms in signage posted on the main mountain biking trailhead encouraged higher donation amounts and participation rates from mountain bikers. Descriptive norms included listing the donation amount from mountain bikers in recent weeks on the signage. Through the survey, researchers found that the likelihood of participants donating increased when participants believed other participants were donating. 


This research is relevant to recreation managers and advocates who want to increase funding for recreational trails and facilities. The authors acknowledge that the baseline signage (text did not display how many bikers had donated in recent weeks) and treatment signage (text displayed that 70% of bikers donated in recent weeks) are not directly comparable, so they also included socio-demographic characteristics as control variables, with 120 participants in the baseline condition and 84 in the treatment. The signage was only in Swedish, which the authors claim did not impact their results since only Swedish speakers participated in the study. Furthermore, since the study was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions were in place, predominantly domestic visitors participated in the study. The results then may reflect cultural norms that are a part of Swedish culture; a more diverse array of trail users may have produced different normative expectations and results. The authors note that stakeholders need to understand current cultural attitudes and norm behavior in the specified location to most effectively develop engagement.


The location is in Rörbäcksnäs Sweden, which is a small village and part of a regional collaboration of biking destinations called biking Dalarna. Rörbäcksnäs has seen significant growth in mountain biking tourists for the past decade.

Trail Type

There are nine marked mountain biking trails in the village; the donation signage is at the main trailhead.


The purpose of this research is to identify strategies using normative social cues to increase voluntary donations on recreational nature-based trails. Funding was provided by the European Regional Development Fund, sub-project INNAture, Innovative business models to fund recreational nature-based trails using Gamification and Nudge as part of Visit Dalarna AB umbrella project: Sustainable and digital service innovation in the hospitality industry in Dalarna


  • Meeting the demand for freely accessible outdoor recreational trails while balancing the costs associated with protecting and supporting the trails can be achieved through persuasive “soft policies” such as signage encouraging donations. 
  • 55.8% of bikers donated in the baseline condition but with the treatment condition the share of donations increased to 72.6%. 
  • Donation value increased from an average of 64.71 SEK (Swedish krona) to an average of 91.33 SEK after the treatment. 
  • When participants think a greater share of other riders are donating, they are more likely to donate. Additionally, the longer participants biked, the higher likelihood they donated. 
  • Nearly 25% of participants were unaware they could donate and more than half of this 25% stated they would have donated if they had been aware. This indicates the value of additional signage and the helpfulness of increasing the visibility of the donation message.


The baseline signage did not include social information: “All work on the trails is done voluntarily. If you want to help – make a contribution. Visit once – contribute twenty. Cycle often –  contribute one hundred [SEK – Swedish krona] and ride with good conscience all summer long. Everything is reinvested in the trails. Have a nice bike ride. Greetings, Rörbäcksnäs Sports Club.” 

The treatment signage included more social information: “All work on the trails is done voluntarily. You and everyone else who mountain bikes are important to make this possible! Thanks to your contribution, we can together enjoy MTB experiences in Rörbäcksnäs unique trail system! In recent weeks, 70 percent of visitors contributed on average 110kr/person. Everything is reinvested in the trails. Have a nice bike ride. Greetings, Rörbäcksnäs Sports Club.”

The study period was between June and August 2020 (high season for mountain biking). The authors interviewed stakeholders and local community groups to understand the barriers in the development of mountain biking trails and their goals. Then the researchers created surveys and installed an electrical counter by the trail entrance. To establish a baseline, they measured mountain bikers and donations for 37 days to determine the typical donation (using data from the Swish App) and the share of donors. In the survey, they selected every third mountain biker when possible to reduce selection bias. Participants were not informed that the study would change the donation message. 

Using data from the survey, they found that 71.4% of users donated, although on average participants believed that 43% donated, which led researchers to use a descriptive norm with the suggested amount and framing to increase donation amount and share of donations. Using a chi-square test, the authors found that the difference in the share of bikers donating between the baseline and the treatment is statistically significant.

Added to library on November 7, 2023