The answers to this survey were so diverse and thoughtful, I put off writing this for a long time because I was trying to figure out a way to do it justice. The responses were surprisingly diverse, with people from every region of the US, an equal number of past thru-hikers and aspiring thru-hikers (20% of each), 40% people who don’t hike often, and a few people from Europe. An unexpected issue with the survey was the number of people who didn’t answer arbitrary numbers of multiple-choice questions (I expected this with the open-ended one but got more/better responses than I imagined), and because of this combined with the modest sample size I think the results are not going to be statistically super scientific. That being said, here are some of the things I noticed/my favorite responses.
Around 30% of respondents named at least one trail club. The most mentioned was WTA (only 4 mentions, one of which was me) and the rest of the answers were totally unique. People named big clubs, local park organizations, or said simply “there are none in central Kansas.” I think this is pretty good, considering only around half of respondents hike at least once per month. Only 40% of previous thru-hikers in the survey do trail maintenance, though. We can do better!
Beautiful Reasons for Hiking
Spiritual reasons were the most often cited as reasons to hike, as well as getting away from other people, communing with nature, and mental clarity. Some of my favorite reasons mentioned were “chasing waterfalls” and “meeting people with dogs.” Sphagnum P.I. gave a good description of what you see when you are on foot and in nature: “There are endless discoveries waiting out there, whether they’re bugs, birds, plants, or people. The speed of walking to a destination allows chances to see everything in a detail we can’t get by any other mode of transport.”
Why We Walk
For hiking, the most important factors among those listed were a good workout, an interesting destination, and a lack of crowds. This makes sense given the number of people who specifically mentioned that they hike to get away from people. Convenience of location and availability were surprisingly middle-ranked for most people; I thought they would be major factors. Three people put “the hike is close to my favorite pizza place” as the number one factor. I can get behind this.
For walks around town, the most important factors were that the walk took people somewhere useful and that it was less than five miles long. Weather and attractiveness of the route came next. Some of the least important factors were someone to walk with and walks less than a mile. I was encouraged by people’s willingness to walk more than one mile! Some people mentioned specific problems that kept them from walking, such as lack of trees and confusing intersections.
Walkability and Urban Planning
On average, people rated their neighborhood 57% walkable, even though a lot of the respondents were from rural/suburban areas. Predictably, people in the northwest and northeast as well as Europe rated their neighborhoods most walkable, and the midwest did worse (except someone who loves walking around Columbus, Ohio! You go Columbus!)
A couple of people made the totally valid point that public transit and bike lanes/paths make a lot of difference in the navigability of the city. Of course, in order for buses to work, a city has to make it easy to walk to the bus stops, and bikes and pedestrians often share paths, so these things go hand-in-hand. They are just as important for making a city feel livable, for sure.
Several people mentioned a need to encourage making “walking a part of our culture again” (Mouse) and that cities tend to be “designed with cars in mind” (Kathy). Many felt that they had no idea how to advocate for walkability or that these concerns were largely ignored. Some people expressed excitement about new developments to aid in walkability or expressed specific concerns, such as a person in Spain who was distressed about the lack of available dog poop bags to help with a waste problem.