Despite the inevitable ecological impact, hiking can be positive to the environment when done responsibly. In Jordan, the greatest benefit would arise if hiking activities were to compete with small farming activity and in particular the breeding of domestic goats.
If sufficient numbers of tourists were to visit hiking areas, the economic benefits from keeping livestock may diminish and the negative impact of soil erosion caused by overgrazing by domestic goats and sheep may become controllable with the alternative income provided by tourists.
According to Cole (2004), the literature on recreation ecology, which covers hiking and trail design, can be summarized as follows:
The impact of hiking on nature is inevitable, even at very low levels of repetitive use
The options for park management are either to curtail the usage of hiking trails or to accept minimal impact levels. In Jordan for example, certain areas are off limit to 4WD cars in Wadi Rum. Wadi Hidan near the Mujib Biosphere Reserve has been closed to the public altogether.
Video: Active Access Control in Wadi Hidan near the Mujib Biosphere Reserve
The impact of hiking occurs rapidly, while recovery occurs more slowly
It can take years before restoration occurs. One way to assist with the restoration of an area is to stay on the trail. Another major impact that would assist with the restoration of trail areas in Jordan is to prohibit the grazing by goats.
The impact of hiking, in many instances, increases more as a result of new places being disturbed than from the deterioration of places that have been disturbed for a long time
Despite the fact that a number of hiking trails are in areas rarely visited by tourists, this does not necessarily mean these areas have not been frequently visited by local communities and Bedouins in particular. In many areas, the ecology would benefit directly if the main activity would be limited to hiking only and that the area is not used for agriculture. Goats have a negative impact on the ecology of many hiking areas in Jordan.
A good example of the impact of grazing goats can be seen on the trail that leads from Dana Village to Feynan. The closer you are to Feynan, the greater the impact of agricultural activities of the Bedouins in the wadi. The closer you are to the valley near Dana Village, which is harder to reach by the Bedouins, the greater the diversity of vegetation.
The magnitude of impact is a function of frequency of use, the type and behavior of use, season of use, environmental conditions, and the spatial distribution of use
Clearly, mass tourism is never good for nature. Petra and to a lesser degree Wadi Rum, are trail areas described in our hiking book that attract mass tourism and where travel is mostly restricted to the high traffic area of the reserves, limiting the negative impact of tourism on nature.
It is best to concentrate use and impact in popular places and to disperse use and impact in relatively pristine places.
Naturally, this would be the case on the trails in Wadi Rum and Petra which by far attract most visitors in Jordan.
We have selected the trails in the hiking in Jordan guidebook with these five impact factors in mind. In many areas, the trails lead through wadis and deserts with paths that already have been established by Bedouin communities or that require that you scramble on rocks or through deserts where the impact is limited naturally.
We have also recorded a large number of trails in and around Jordan's main tourist attractions such as Wadi Rum and Petra. Most tourists visit the hiking areas in Petra and Wadi Rum, concentrating the use and impact in popular places. Relatively few hikers explore remote areas as described in the Hiking Guidebook (Disi and Rahma) supporting the spatial distribution of the hikes throughout Jordan.
- Heini Sommer, Matthias Amacher, Marcel Buffat: The economic essentials of Swiss hiking trails (summary). Swiss Federal Roads Office and Schweizer Wanderwege, Bern 2011.
- Cole, David N. 2004. Impacts of hiking and camping on soils and vegetation: a review. In: Buckley, Ralf (ed.) Environmental impacts of ecotourism. CAB International: Wallingford UK: 41-60.