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Trail Construction


In trail construction, not only does a contractor need to know where the trail will go and how it will be used, he needs to plan how it will be built.  Some considerations are:

  • Types of users; what mix of user groups will use the trail system
  • The volume of use; or encounters of different user groups

Care must be taken to provide for the multiple use groups often encouraged in most trail systems, be they the elderly walker and equestrians, or bicyclists, or equestrians and bicyclists.  In any event an encounter is possible.

Consideration should be given to the physical setting of a trail.  Carefully thought out trail systems often aid in the:

  • Location and design of the trail
  • Visual impact of the trail and how it relates to the surrounding area
  • Longevity of the trail and proper maintenance
  • Resolution and prevention of conflicts

As a trail contractor, I consider these four elements and in designing and building a trail project:

  • Easy to follow, safe to travel
  • Complements the natural terrain
  • Built in ecological or environmental safety
  • Budgetary feasibility

When following the trail, people should be able to look at and enjoy their surroundings without being overly concerned about what they are walking on.  Well-designed trails not only began as well marked, easy to follow paths but are easily maintained in safe, sustainable, orderly condition.  It is also important to build the trail with the knowledge that people are “site specific” and will cut trails when they can see their final destination.  Under these conditions the destination, whether it is a viewpoint, trail intersection or parking lot should be hidden for as long as possible or volunteer trails will be created.

Specific User Groups

Specific trail users have different trail specifications than others.  For example, pedestrian and equestrian trails typically use a two percent outslope, while mountain bikes or motorcycles use a 6 to 10 percent outslope.  Mountain bikes and motorcycles use the trails at a much higher rate of speed and some turns and switchbacks need to be armored and protected.  Horses on the other hand, walk on the outside of the trail so natural barriers such as stumps and rocks need to be placed at intervals along the trail corridor to keep the horses more to the center of the trail.  

The clearing limits along the trail corridor are also different, mountain bikes and motorcycles tend to want narrower clearing limits of four to six feet wide and eight feet in height.  Equestrian trails height limit is no less than 10 feet, and depending on trail usage for pack animals or day riders vary from six to eight feet wide.

In designing and building trails for specific groups one must understand there will be a crossover from other user groups.  Therefore, trails should be constructed with the longest line - of - site possible.  This allows for reaction time of conflicting users.  Example: Horses encounter with mountain bikes.

Rock climbers and fishermen typically do not share their trails with other user groups. Therefore the trails they require have much steeper grades and less clearing limits than the trails listed above.

To see some of my previous projects check out the Trails Project Portfolio