Trail Design Tips
“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.
“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.
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.
Machine or Hand?
Machine building requires a different approach to design, both in terms of what machines can do and what they can’t. It’s important to know which method of construction will be used before ground truthing. (And in some cases, trails will use both methods if the terrain so dictates)
“When you do a poor job of trail design you are visiting headaches on
–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.
A clinometer is helpful, but only to an extent – and at its best it’s not particularly accurate, especially at longer distances.
Grade is only one part of the sustainability formula. What is the soil type? Is it rocky? How far down the slope is the trail? These are just a few questions you need to factor in when determining what grade is appropriate. Maximum grade can be near vertical on solid rock, closer to 3% on a slope of decomposed granite.