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Over the hills and through the woods: WVU works to improve mountain biking in West Virginia

Man on mountain bike riding on a trail through the woods.

With new research happening on Morgantown trails, West Virginia University is hoping to continue raising the state’s mountain biking profile.  

Chad Pierskalla, professor of recreation, parks and tourism resources at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is among a team of researchers focusing on advancing the mountain bike industry by improving the trails. 

Funded by the first American Trails Grant, this research was one of seven chosen from 260 applications. The grant will be used to focus on the recreation specialization of mountain bike trails. 

“Recreation specialization involves a process where mountain bikers gain skill and experience, acquire equipment and increase investment as they move along a spectrum from novice to expert,” Pierskalla said. “Using a multidimensional construct to analyze recreation specialization will help us understand the diversity of mountain bikers.”

Recreation specialization has previously been used in the context of boaters, hikers, backpackers and photographers; however, WVU is the first to use this type of research approach in mountain biking.  

By creating market segments of mountain bikers along the spectrum, managers can better understand differing demographics and preferences like trail mileage and trail features, such as bathrooms and playgrounds, while quantifying economic impact. In doing so, the research helps guide the development of high-end trails for novice- to expert-level riders and trail users. 

To do this, researchers from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, WVU Extension, the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative and the University of Montana are utilizing a national data set that will help inform efforts to create new and better mountain biking trails here in West Virginia.  

In addition to recreation specialization, the team is examining factors such as destination preferences, mountain bike travel spending trends, economic impact, volunteer engagement, trail amenity preference and e-mountain bike use.

“We know that people will develop a value-driven lifestyle by connecting to outdoor recreation,” Danny Twilley, assistant vice president of economic, community and asset development for the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at WVU, said. “We see it all the time. After Utah and Colorado capitalized on their natural resources for recreation and community benefits, they’ve seen some of the highest percentage of population growth in the country. People are staying and moving to these places because of the quality of life you can have, and we have to lean on that as a state.” 

The project uses a 2018 national data set collected by Twilley and Melissa Weddell, director of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana. It includes more than 13,000 surveys from the U.S. mountain biking community. 

Due to COVID-19, this data set hasn’t been fully analyzed until now. Not only is this the first research to use this data set, but it has the potential to create a path for other mountain bike research projects.  

“This study can serve as baseline data that we or other researchers can use to measure different socio-economic impacts against because of the number of trails being considered and advancements currently taking place,” Pierskalla said.   

Pierskalla is confident about accomplishing the land-grant mission of service to the state by applying concepts from their research to make real-world impacts. 

By increasing interest, availability and accessibility of mountain biking in West Virginia, the team hopes to see more people wanting to explore the state, thereby improving the lives of West Virginians.  

“An important goal of this project is to provide a diversity of trail types that welcomes everyone into the state of West Virginia for mountain biking,” Pierskalla said.


The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design envisions a world sustainably fed, clothed and sheltered. To learn more about the Davis College, visit Keep up with the latest updates and news on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube by following @WVUDavis.




CONTACT: Leah Smith  
Public Relations Specialist
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design