Trail Design Tips

January 2019

“That would be the easy way, but it wouldn’t be the cowboy way.”

— Ranger Doug, Riders in the Sky

Design trails with an eye for minimizing construction costs, but not at the expense of sustainability or aesthetics. In trail design, assume you have only one chance to get it right, because coming back for a reroute is rarely an option.

February 2019

“Don’t be seduced by freebies.”

–Joey Klein, IMBA Trail Solutions (when he was on the IMBA Trail Care Crew in 1999)

Game trails, social trails, rock ledges – all of these may be incorporated, but be careful they don’t lead you away from, or cause you to miss, opportunities for better sustainable routes or points of interest.

March 2019

First You Build

Designing trail without substantial construction experience may be possible, but knowledge of what can be built, how it can be built, and if an alternative route might be less challenging to builders can only come with sweat equity.

May 2019

“When you do a poor job of trail design you are visiting headaches on
future generations.”
–Terry Bell, United State Forest Service, Mt. Hood Ranger District, 1995

Anybody who has gone back time and again to repair the same washed out or cupped tread has experienced such headaches. Let your design produce only smiles.

Pima County

Mark has been a part-time trails program coordinator for Pima County Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation (NRPR) since 2006. During that period he took the lead in numerous trail projects, including designing the Sweetwater and Robles Trails Parks, reroutes/new trails in Tucson Mountain Park, The McKenzie Ranch Mountain Bike Competitive Course, the Hohokam Trail (mostly conceptual).

Neil moved from the Town of Marana to Pima County, becoming a full-time trails program coordinator in October 2017. Since joining Pima County, Neil has played instrumental roles in all trail design and construction efforts.

For machine building projects, Mark operates the NRPR SWECO 480 trail dozer, and Neil operates a mini excavator. The move to mechanized trail construction in 2017 has greatly increased trail construction productivity, from five miles a year using volunteers to 15-20 miles.

Caliente, Nevada

In the fall of 2017, Neil and Mark designed a 24.5-mile shuttle route as part of a greater mountain bike destination system near the town of Caliente, in the Great Basin about two hours north of Las Vegas.

Working with project lead, American Conservation Corps, we developed a route descending from just below the lookout at Ella Mountain, with connection points to Kershaw-Ryan State Park and the newly completed Barnes Canyon trails.

The route will allow shuttle connections to the top, where mountain bikers will encounter technically challenging terrain and enjoy spectacular views. Two lower road access points provide fast, flowy rides through piñon/juniper forest to the bottom.






Superior Arizona

Southwest Trails Solution began 2018 with an exciting new project, helping develop a new trail system in the Picketpost Mountain area, south of the town of Superior. Project lead, Westland Resources, Inc., is working with Resolution Copper and the Superior Recreation Users Group (RUG) to prepare a plan to submit to the Tonto National Forest.

The rugged and spectacular beauty of the area provided amazing opportunities, along with serious challenges posed by the terrain. Utilizing a team approach, Neil and Mark were joined by trail experts Chad Brown, Sirena Dufault, Scott Morris, Evan Pilling and Zach McDonald, to cover the rugged, rocky terrain as thoroughly as possible.


Navajo Nation Trails

From October 2015 through the summer of 2017, Neil and Mark participated in an advisory capacity to a task force formed to create, nurture and propagate the Navajo Nation Trails Initiative (NNTI). Southwest Trail Solutions provided pro bono assistance and training in all aspects of trail system design and construction, with emphasis on “big picture” planning and principles of sustainability. Visiting the Nation monthly, Neil and Mark were able to reach many of the communities and share their knowledge.

The purpose of the NNTI is to provide trails to enhance community physical, emotional and spiritual health as well as distance trails to promote ecotourism.

The Navajo Nation, which is the size of New England, includes some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, and many routes will quickly become popular ecotourism destinations.

Southwest Trail Solutions adopted this project as a way of helping the Navajo People develop this system themselves. The objective was not to be some kind of “trails Santa,” but rather share skills and knowledge so the people who live in the Navajo Nation – and have an intimate connection with and knowledge of the land – can create a trail system that reflects their values and needs.


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