Trail use and recreational physical activity behavior of trail users and non-users during COVID-19 restrictions in Colorado Springs, Colorado


health behavior
outdoor recreation
trail use
physical activity

How to Cite

Odell, N., & Lee, J. (2024). Trail use and recreational physical activity behavior of trail users and non-users during COVID-19 restrictions in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living, 4(1), 32–46. Retrieved from


Physical activity (PA) is important health behavior that was impacted for many by the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many places, indoor recreational facilities were required to close; however, many outdoor spaces like trails were available for recreational use. The purpose of this study was to examine the use of a mixed-use trail before, during, and after COVID-19 restrictions in a large Colorado city and explore if recreational PA behavior differed between trail users and non-users during those periods. Trail user counts on a mixed-use trail were extracted for 2019 and 2020 from continuous-count data. Trail use habits and recreational PA behavior from before, during, and after restrictions were collected via a retrospective internet survey (N=183). Minutes per week of walking, moderate-to-vigorous PA and total PA were calculated from survey responses. Trail use data were analyzed with a two-way ANOVA and PA data were analyzed with a two-way repeated measures ANOVA. Trail use (average count/day) during COVID-19 restrictions was greater than before by 178 users and after by 96 users. During restrictions, trail users reported 153.5 more minutes of total PA per week than non-users. These results suggest the importance of maintaining accessible outdoor infrastructure for promoting positive PA behaviors in general, and especially in a pandemic situation.



American College of Sports Medicine. (2020, March 16). Staying physically active during the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Trails. (n.d.). Trail User Survey Library.

Ammar, A., Brach, M., Trabelsi, K., Chtourou, H., Boukhris, O., Masmoudi, L., Bouaziz, B., Bentlage, E., How, D., Ahmed, M., Müller, P., Müller, N., Aloui, A., Hammouda, O., Paineiras-Domingos, L. L., Braakman-Jansen, A., Wrede, C., Bastoni, S., Pernambuco, C. S., … On Behalf of the ECLB-COVID19 Consortium. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 home confinement on eating behaviour and physical activity: Results of the ECLB-COVID19 International Online Survey. Nutrients, 12(6), 1583.

Beattie, C. M., DeBlauw, J., Besenyi, G., Mailey, E., & Heinrich, K. M. (2021). Covid-19 Lockdowns: How Fitness Facility Users And Non-users Adapted: 666. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 53(8S).

Besenyi, G., Pruneda, O., Mailey, E., Deblauw, J., Beattie, C., Gustat, J., & Heinrich, K. (2021). Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Physical Activity Behavior Across Domains and Settings. Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living, 1(4), 181–197.

Burnett, H., Olsen, J. R., Nicholls, N., & Mitchell, R. (2021). Change in time spent visiting and experiences of green space following restrictions on movement during the COVID-19 pandemic: A nationally representative cross-sectional study of UK adults. BMJ Open, 11(3), e044067.

Castañeda-Babarro, A., Arbillaga-Etxarri, A., Gutiérrez-Santamaría, B., & Coca, A. (2020). Physical Activity Change during COVID-19 Confinement. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(18), 6878. PubMed.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021a, January 22). Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity: Data, Trends and Maps [Data search]. Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity: Data, Trends and Maps.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021b, January 29). How to be physically active while social distancing.

Christiana, R. W., Besenyi, G. M., Gustat, J., Horton, T. H., Penbrooke, T. L., & Schultz, C. L. (2021). A Scoping Review of the Health Benefits of Nature-Based Physical Activity. Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living, 1(3), 154–172.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (2020). Second updated public health order 20-24 implementing Stay at Home requirements.

Craig, C. L., Marshall, A. L., Sjöström, M., Bauman, A. E., Booth, M. L., Ainsworth, B. E., Pratt, M., Ekelund, U., Yngve, A., Sallis, J. F., & Oja, P. (2003). International physical activity questionnaire: 12-country reliability and validity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(8), 1381–1395.

Derks, J., Giessen, L., & Winkel, G. (2020). COVID-19-induced visitor boom reveals the importance of forests as critical infrastructure. Forest Policy and Economics, 118, 102253.

Doubleday, A., Choe, Y., Busch Isaksen, T., Miles, S., & Errett, N. A. (2021). How did outdoor biking and walking change during COVID-19?: A case study of three U.S. cities. PLOS ONE, 16(1), e0245514.

Fearnbach, S. N., Flanagan, E. W., Höchsmann, C., Beyl, R. A., Altazan, A. D., Martin, C. K., & Redman, L. M. (2021). Factors protecting against a decline in physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Fisher, B., & Grima, N. (2020). The importance of urban natural areas and urban ecosystem services during the COVID-19 pandemic. SocArXiv.

Flowers, E. P., Freeman, P., & Gladwell, V. F. (2016). A cross-sectional study examining predictors of visit frequency to local green space and the impact this has on physical activity levels. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 420.

Geng, D. C., Innes, J., Wu, W., & Wang, G. (2020). Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on urban park visitation: A global analysis. Journal of Forestry Research, 32, 553–567.

Larson, L. R., Zhang, Z., Oh, J. I., Beam, W., Ogletree, S. S., Bocarro, J. N., Lee, K. J., Casper, J., Stevenson, K. T., Hipp, J. A., Mullenbach, L. E., Carusona, M., & Wells, M. (2021). Urban park use during the COVID-19 pandemic: Are socially vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted? Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, 3, 103.

Lesser, I. A., & Nienhuis, C. P. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on physical activity behavior and well-being of Canadians. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(11), 3899.

Maertl, T., De Bock, F., Huebl, L., Oberhauser, C., Coenen, M., Jung-Sievers, C., & on behalf of the COSMO Study Team. (2021). Physical activity during COVID-19 in German adults: Analyses in the COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring Study (COSMO). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(2), 507.

McCarthy, H., Potts, H., & Fisher, A. (2020). Physical activity behaviour before, during and after COVID-19 restrictions: A longitudinal smartphone tracking study of 5395 UK adults. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(2), e23701.

Mel, A. E., & Stenson, M. C. (2021). Physical activity changes during the spring 2020 COVID-19 shutdown in the United States. Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 6(4).

Michelini, E., Bortoletto, N., & Porrovecchio, A. (2021). Outdoor Physical Activity During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A Comparative Analysis of Government Restrictions in Italy, France, and Germany. Frontiers in Public Health, 9, 615745–615745. PubMed.

Moore, S. C., Lee, I.-M., Weiderpass, E., Campbell, P. T., Sampson, J. N., Kitahara, C. M., Keadle, S. K., Arem, H., Berrington de Gonzalez, A., Hartge, P., Adami, H.-O., Blair, C. K., Borch, K. B., Boyd, E., Check, D. P., Fournier, A., Freedman, N. D., Gunter, M., Johannson, M., … Patel, A. V. (2016). Association of leisure-time physical activity with risk of 26 types of cancer in 1.44 million adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(6), 816–825.

Odell, N. E., Whitney, P., & Lee, J. A. (2023). Changes in adult leisure-time physical activity during and after COVID-19 restrictions in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Leisure Studies, 1–11.

Park, S., Kim, B., & Lee, J. (2020). Social distancing and outdoor physical activity during the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea: Implications for physical distancing strategies. Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, 32(6–7), 360–362.

ParkScore. (n.d.). The Trust for Public Land. Retrieved August 28, 2021, from

Pasanen, T. P., Tyrväinen, L., & Korpela, K. M. (2014). The Relationship between Perceived Health and Physical Activity Indoors, Outdoors in Built Environments, and Outdoors in Nature. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 6(3), 324–346.

Powell, K. E., King, A. C., Buchner, D. M., Campbell, W. W., DiPietro, L., Erickson, K. I., Hillman, C. H., Jakicic, J. M., Janz, K. F., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Kraus, W. E., Macko, R. F., Marquez, D. X., McTiernan, A., Pate, R. R., Pescatello, L. S., & Whitt-Glover, M. C. (2019). The scientific foundation for the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 16(1), 1–11. SPORTDiscus with Full Text.

Rails to Trails Conservancy. (n.d.). Trail count data [Spreadsheet]. RailsToTrails_National Count Data_week. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from

Rice, W. L., & Pan, B. (2021). Understanding changes in park visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic: A spatial application of big data. Wellbeing, Space and Society, 2, 100037.

Ritchie, H., Mathieu, E., Rodés-Guiras, L., Appel, C., Giattino, C., Ortiz-Ospina, E., Hasell, J., MacDonald, B., Beltekian, D., & Roser, M. (2020). Policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Our World in Data.

Slater, S. J., Christiana, R. W., & Gustat, J. (2020). Recommendations for keeping parks and green space accessible for mental and physical health during COVID-19 and other pandemics. Preventing Chronic Disease, 17, E59–E59. PubMed.

Smiley, A., Ramos, W., Elliott, L., & Wolter, S. (2020). Comparing the Trail Users with Trail Non-Users on Physical Activity, Sleep, Mood and Well-Being Index. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(17).

Spruijt-Metz, D., Wolch, J., Jerrett, M., Byrne, J., Hsieh, S., Myles, R., Xie, B., Wang, L., Chou, C.-P., & Reynolds, K. D. (2010). Development, Reliability, and Validity of an Urban Trail Use Survey. American Journal of Health Promotion, 25(1), 2–11.

Starnes, H. A., Troped, P. J., Klenosky, D. B., & Doehring, A. M. (2011). Trails and Physical Activity: A Review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 8(8), 1160–1174.

Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J., & Depledge, M. H. (2011). Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(5), 1761–1772.

Tison, G. H., Avram, R., Kuhar, P., Abreau, S., Marcus, G. M., Pletcher, M. J., & Olgin, J. E. (2020). Worldwide effect of COVID-19 on physical activity: A descriptive study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 173, 767–770.

Troped, P. J., Saunders, R. P., & Pate, R. R. (2005). Comparisons Between Rail-Trail Users and Nonusers and Men and Women’s Patterns of Use in a Suburban Community. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 2(2), 169. SPORTDiscus with Full Text.

Ugolini, F., Massetti, L., Calaza-Martínez, P., Cariñanos, P., Dobbs, C., Ostoić, S. K., Marin, A. M., Pearlmutter, D., Saaroni, H., Šaulienė, I., Simoneti, M., Verlič, A., Vuletić, D., & Sanesi, G. (2020). Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the use and perceptions of urban green space: An international exploratory study. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 56, 126888.

van den Berg, M., van Poppel, M., van Kamp, I., Andrusaityte, S., Balseviciene, B., Cirach, M., Danileviciute, A., Ellis, N., Hurst, G., Masterson, D., Smith, G., Triguero-Mas, M., Uzdanaviciute, I., de Wit, P., van Mechelen, W., Gidlow, C., Grazuleviciene, R., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., Kruize, H., & Maas, J. (2016). Visiting green space is associated with mental health and vitality: A cross-sectional study in four european cities. Health & Place, 38, 8–15.

Venter, Z. S., Barton, D. N., Gundersen, V., Figari, H., & Nowell, M. (2020). Urban nature in a time of crisis: Recreational use of green space increases during the COVID-19 outbreak in Oslo, Norway. Environmental Research Letters, 15(10), 104075.

Venter, Z. S., Barton, D. N., Gundersen, V., Figari, H., & Nowell, M. S. (2021). Back to nature: Norwegians sustain increased recreational use of urban green space months after the COVID-19 outbreak. Landscape and Urban Planning, 214, 104175.

Vindegaard, N., & Benros, M. E. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and mental health consequences: Systematic review of the current evidence. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 89, 531–542.

Violant-Holz, V., Gallego-Jiménez, M. G., González-González, C. S., Muñoz-Violant, S., Rodríguez, M. J., Sansano-Nadal, O., & Guerra-Balic, M. (2020). Psychological Health and Physical Activity Levels during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(24).

Volenec, Z. M., Abraham, J. O., Becker, A. D., & Dobson, A. P. (2021). Public parks and the pandemic: How park usage has been affected by COVID-19 policies. PLOS ONE, 16(5), e0251799.

Wahid, A., Manek, N., Nichols, M., Kelly, P., Foster, C., Webster, P., Kaur, A., Friedemann Smith, C., Wilkins, E., Rayner, M., Roberts, N., & Scarborough, P. (2016). Quantifying the association between physical activity and cardiovascular disease and diabetes: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of the American Heart Association, 5(9), e002495.

White, M. P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., Wheeler, B. W., Hartig, T., Warber, S. L., Bone, A., Depledge, M. H., & Fleming, L. E. (2019). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 7730.

White, R. L., Babic, M. J., Parker, P. D., Lubans, D. R., Astell-Burt, T., & Lonsdale, C. (2017). Domain-specific physical activity and mental health: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(5), 653–666.

World Health Organization. (2020, November 26). Physical Activity Fact Sheet.

World Health Organization. (2021, March 3). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public.

Young, D. R., Hong, B. D., Lo, T., Inzhakova, G., Cohen, D. A., & Sidell, M. A. (2021). The longitudinal associations of physical activity, time spent outdoors in nature and symptoms of depression and anxiety during COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing in the United States. Preventive Medicine, 106863.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2024 Nicole E. Odell, M.S., M.Sc., Joey A. Lee, Ph.D.