Carrying capacity defines the maximum number of people who can use the water trail without negatively impacting the desired social or ecological conditions. Carrying capacity should be evaluated from four perspectives:
Physical Carrying Capacity: the amount of recreational use that can physically occur in a defined space. Is enough water and shoreline space available to accommodate all planned uses?
Facility Carrying Capacity: the amount of recreational use is constrained by the availability of facility support. Can water trail users needs for facilities such as parking, boat launching, restrooms, camping, etc. be accommodated?
Ecological Carrying Capacity: the amount of use that can occur without creating unacceptable impacts on the ecosystem. Will increased use inappropriately affect plants, animals, soil, water quality, etc.?
Social Carrying Capacity: the maximum amount of use that can occur without impairing the desired social experience. Will increased use result in a “crowded” feeling that does not meet the water trail user's expectations?
Somewhere between minimum and maximum use, optimal carrying capacity may trade higher capacity for other benefits.