Design a trail to last 100 years

The goal is a well sited, well built trail that can withstand both heavy use as well as the elements and the years

Design a trail to last 100 years

We plant trees for our grandchildren to enjoy, why should we expect any less of the trails we build?

Posted on 22.06.2018

The Challenge

Design a trail to last 100 years.

We plant trees for our Grandchildren to enjoy, why should we expect any less of the trails we build?

The challenges of balancing ecological protection, physical management and social demands on natural surface hiking, equestrian, mountain biking and multi-use trails can be overwhelming. However, it is possible to meet these challenges by designing sustainable trails that are created to last into the next century.

I am fortunate to work for Five Rivers MetroParks in Montgomery County, Dayton Ohio. Protecting open space and natural areas is at the heart of the mission of MetroParks in all of its 25 facilities. These include 18 parks, portions of six regional bikeways— as well as 11 conservation areas, all of which protects nearly 16,000 acres of forests, grasslands, farmlands and wetlands.

The common element to all of these areas is the trail system that Five Rivers manages. Seventy-five miles of hiking trails, 30 miles of equestrian trails, a nine-mile mountain bike area (MoMBA) and the 29-mile Twin Valley Backpacking Trail. Ohio’s Miami Valley region also provides over 330 miles of paved multiuse recreational trails, making it home to what may be the nation’s largest network of paved off-street trails.

In 2005, Five Rivers MetroParks embarked on the development of two facilities, MoMba, a 100- acre mountain bike area and creation of the Twin Valley Backpacking Trail. These were the catalyst for creation of MetroParks’ Sustainable Trails Initiative and the ensuing 13 years of lessons learned in Sustainable Trails design, installation, and management.

Why Trails

Trails are generally an agencies largest infrastructure. Just one average trail that is 5 miles long covers the same area as a 100,000 sq ft building, almost 2.5 acres. Studies repeatedly show that the public values trails as one of the most used, appreciated, and important amenities of a park system. Designing them in the most sustainable manner possible makes fiscal, ecological and social sense.

A few things to keep in mind as we get started:

  • First, ALL trails have an impact, work to keep it to a minimum.
  • Secondly, All trails change over time, no free rides, no maintenance free trails. Trails must be designed in anticipation of changes to ensure they remain relatively stable with appropriate maintenance and management, and
  •  Third, at the core of ALL trails planning is satisfying a trail user’s desire for a specific type of trail experience.

To develop truly sustainable trails there are three primary disciplines, Physical, Ecological, and Social sustainability. Let’s break each of these down before we put them together to design and build your trail that lasts into the next century.

In Conclusion

As we’ve discovered, most of the hard work of designing a long lasting, truly sustainable trail is done before the shovels hit the ground. The effort you spend up front will pay dividends in the end. You’ll see greatly improved eco-health, a decrease in trail density, decreased maintenance costs & staff time, higher volunteer participation & commitment, along with increased patron use and satisfaction.

A legacy you can leave to the future is to design a trail that will stand the test of time. One that protects the special natural areas you are entrusted with and also provides generations to come, an experience that inspires a personal connection with nature. This can be accomplished by combining physical, ecological and social sustainability to design a trail that will truly last 100 years.

American Trails





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