Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Soil erosion and vegetation loss accelerated by visitor use of Paradise Meadows, Mount Rainier National Park

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  • Recreational impacts on the subalpine-alpine ecosystems of Mount Rainier National Park have developed over the past century, and today pose a major problem for park managers. Field data were collected during the summer of 1987 in the Paradise meadows area in order to describe visitor impacts on social trails (trails established by informal visitor use off of maintained trails), develop a systematic method for documenting damage, relate impacts to site characteristics, and develop recommendations to mitigate these impacts. A total of 1126 social trails were identified and measurements were made on the physical variables of elevation, trail slope, length, width, depth, associated plant community, trail hierarchy pattern, and percent bare ground. Trail variables were analyzed by simple linear correlation, multiple regression, and analysis of variance. Elevation and slope gradient were significantly correlated with the width and depth of a social trail. Social trail length was not correlated with the other physical variables. Significant correlations were found between plant communities and the width and depth of impacts, and high elevation trails were found to be more susceptible to erosion than middle and low elevation trails. Multiple regression with trail depth as the dependent variable identified slope as the variable accounting for most of the variance (11.0%). The heath shrub community was the most susceptible of five plant communities to damage following the establishment of social trails. Plant communities were found to have consistent social trail characteristics and can be used to initially prioritize social trail rehabilitation efforts. Management recommendations were made regarding the establishment of trails, prioritization of rehabilitation efforts, and ways to improve documentation of impacts.
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