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Skidmore College

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


National parks are created and used for a variety of purposes but are primarily important for the conservation of natural resources and use by visitors. While park use is meant to be non-destructive, human interaction causes changes in ecosystems, leading to conflicts between these goals. Here, I examine the causes of trail degradation and impacts on surrounding forests in Parque Internacional la Amistad (PILA), Panama. This park is a world heritage site with the primary goal of preserving some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems including rare and endangered species. However, the park entrance in Las Nubes, Cerro Punta receives upwards of 2,000 visitors every year on three main trails, leading to a conflict between park goals.

I measured slope, width, incision, light penetration and other measures of disturbance on these trails to address the causes of degradation. I did not find a clear effect of use, but did find influences of trail slope and management on erosion and other measures of degradation. In general, sites on less steep trails or with more intensive management, particularly gravel, had less erosion and more understory cover. La Cascada, the longest trail, was in very poor condition with some areas incised as much at 50 cm, and while the other trails were in somewhat better condition, all could use additional maintenance.

Construction of future trails should focus on low trail grade and use gravel and other techniques to keep users on the trail and harden the tread. Current trails may also benefit from additional substrate management and repair of planks and stairs, although management resources are very limited, making these large-scale interventions difficult. Smaller scale, inexpensive interventions such as improved visitor education about low-impact practices may slow trail degradation rates.


Forest Management | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy


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