Planners, designers, and managers must keep the 4Es of engineering, education, enforcement, and evaluation in the forefront of their mind in their work to create great trails. If riders find what they want on the trail, they won’t look for it off the trail.
The fourth E in the all-important 4Es is Evaluation, which is an assessment, appraisal, or review. If managers don’t know the current conditions, they won’t know how to plan, act, or react.
Assessments, which can be either routine or formal, are part of a continual process used in every component of the great trail continuum:
Routine assessments are daily or regularly scheduled inspections of the trail or trail system. The motto “Observe, Record, Report” forms the basis for these inspections. Every person in the field should be performing monitoring for obvious safety or maintenance issues. All observations should be recorded on an informal monitoring form and be accompanied by pictures, GPS coordinates, or other documentation as necessary. This form is then given to management so action can be scheduled. It is important to note that the project file should also have documentation of what is working and going well. This information can be used in preparing reports to upper management or in developing grant applications.
Field personnel who perform routine inspections need to have a basic knowledge of engineering and the physical forces covered in Chapter 4, comprehension of trail durability versus trail degradation, an understanding of structure function and maintenance, and the ability to recognize routine problem indicators. Personnel need to detect the difference between what is there versus what should be there. The goal of routine inspections is to detect symptoms before they become problems. Field personnel don’t necessarily have to know how to fix the issue, just observe it, record it, and report it.
Formal assessments are more comprehensive, detailed, and often look at the bigger picture that includes not just sites on the ground, but how those sites affect the overall effectiveness of the program. Rather than being proactive, a formal assessment is often requested as a reaction to an issue that is no longer a symptom, but a problem. A formal assessment answers the questions: What could be there? What is there? What should be there? How do I get to where I should be?
The final report usually has three parts: observations, where the site is examined and evaluated to answer the first two questions (above); commendations, what is good or going well; and recommendations, actions to correct what isn’t good and answer the last two questions (above). Often, these reports are precursors to a management action, used as a project basis (Purpose and Need), and incorporated into NEPA documents or management plans.
There are three main types of formal assessments: feasibility or site assessment, safety assessment, and condition survey or assessment.
Feasibility or Site Assessments. What activities could or should occur on a given site? What are the opportunities and what are the obvious constraints? A feasibility assessment is usually conducted at the project initiation phase, which could be at the beginning of a new project or the expansion of an existing project.
The assessor should understand:
Safety Assessments. A safety assessment examines agency risk and the risk to public safety. Perhaps there has been a tort claim, an increase in the number or severity of accidents, increased search and rescue incidents, customer complaints, or just an uneasy feeling or question by management. For objectivity, it is highly recommended that the assessor be unfamiliar with the site.
The assessor should understand:
Condition Survey or Assessment. A condition assessment usually focuses on the physical condition of the trail and related facilities, but it can also look at the bigger picture and address safety and risk issues. It answers questions like: How often does this occur? Why does this occur? What else is occurring? Is the trail condition consistent with design and maintenance guidelines in the TMO? Does the trail provide the desired experience? Is the trail sustainable or is it degrading due to poor location and design or changes in use levels, use types, or maintenance? Are the structures sound and functional? Do the facilities provide good customer information and service? Are resources being protected? Is there compliance with the rules and regulations? Is off-trail use occurring? Is the trail providing a high-quality recreation experience and customer satisfaction? Does the site appear professionally managed and maintained?
Using the 4Es, the condition assessment examines trail issues (drainage, erosion, tread degradation) and recommends solutions (maintenance, reconstruction, structures, hardening, or relocation). Recommendations can also include staffing, training, or equipment needs. As with safety assessments, a condition survey is best done with someone who is knowledgeable, but not routinely familiar with the site.
The assessor should understand:
Challenge is an expectation; risk is a surprise.
Safety and condition assessments examine issues, but often managers may not recognize an issue or the indicators of an impending issue. Inexperienced personnel or familiarity with a site can blur the team members’ vision, which is why a fresh set of eyes is best for conducting these assessments. Listed below are some of the issues or indicators that an assessment would highlight.
Problem indicators can be obvious or subtle, but they are all precursors of future management or maintenance issues. Many of these issues appear to be maintenance related, but they could also indicate issues with trail location, construction techniques, budget, priorities, available personnel, skilled personnel, complacent personnel, material availability, equipment availability, a lack of an assessment, or extended intervals between assessments.
Tip:Never close a trail by simply putting a fence across it. The result will be failure.
Tip:Every known accident should have some level of investigation to determine cause and agency risk.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter:
“Wow! That was fun!” What sets one trail apart from all the other trails and makes riders say this at the end of the day? Was it the setting and the landscape, the challenge, the recreation experience, or something else? Something about that trail evoked feelings and emotions. Managers must find the elements that made those riders say “WOW!”
Often, when riders are asked what makes a great trail great, the responses include:
Note that all of these except for “fun” are physical features that are provided through good planning, location, and design. “Fun” is at the top of the list because it is often the first rider response. But what is “fun”? In reality, a fun experience is created by having all of the other bullets. Fun is actually a subjective assessment of the experience. It is an emotional response and the greater the trail experience, the higher the emotional response. Five factors come together to trigger that great trail emotion: capitalize on the physical elements, understand and design for the human elements, create trail flow, provide for the riders’ needs, and create variety.
Tip:Developing a WOW trail experience is similar to a painter creating a masterpiece.
The physical elements are the features of the landscape that the planners or designers have available to help mold the quality of the trail experience. These features can be grand or subtle.
First, planners and designers must find the WOW. Every region has its own WOW. Experiencing that variety of WOW is why groups of riders travel to different areas and regions. Whatever that feature is, good planners and designers will find it and showcase it.
Second, planners and designers must find the little wow, the subliminal absorption. The riders absorb the physical elements on two levels. The first level is the conscious level. The riders consciously see the big, showy elements above and think, “WOW, that is cool!” The second level is the subconscious level. The riders’ eyes see the wow, but the riders don’t remember seeing them because the smaller wows aren’t registered at the same time as the larger wows. Instead, these smaller wows get recorded in the subconscious mind as small but cumulative images. At the end of the day, the riders’ minds add the subconscious images with the conscious images to create a subjective assessment: “WOW, that was really COOL!” But when asked what made the riders say that, the response is often a nebulous “stuff” because the riders don’t consciously know.
The astute trail locator with creative vision will seek out these subliminal images and locate the trail so the riders’ eyes see them, even though it is a subconscious recognition.. This awareness of the little things can play a big part in making a great trail great.
The arrangement of the physical features on a trail can trigger an emotional response within the riders. There are two components of this element: human perception and feelings.
What riders see, the order in which they see it, and how they interpret what they see forms a perception of the trail that molds the judgment of the experience. That perception is formed by the arrangement of natural features to form shapes, anchors, gateways, and edges. A trail that capitalizes on these features is one that will trigger an emotional response.
Some ways planners and designers can capitalize on human perception include the following:
Shapes. Does the shape of the feature fit into the perception of what is natural?
Anchors. Use anchors to bond the trail to the landscape.
Gateways. Use a gateway as a threshold that riders pass through. It confines the trail and frames it with the landscape. Two anchors side by side can become a gateway.
Edges. Use edges such as cliffs, streams, fencelines, vegetative changes (either natural lines or ones formed by wildfires or logging), ridge tops, rimrock, etc. Part of human nature is that riders tend to gravitate toward edges, so when a trail follows an edge, it is satisfying one of the human needs. Like anchors and gateways, edges confine riders and the trail.
Shapes, anchors, gateways, and edges are all a spatial arrangement of natural features. Because they trigger an emotional response from the riders, they are powerful design tools. Those tools form the perception of the trail, but the trail’s location and design also stimulate feelings. By having positive feelings about the trail, the trail experience and thus the recreation experience is likely to be positive also. Great trail planners and designers create feelings of safety, efficiency, playfulness, and harmony.
Safety. Am I within my comfort zone? Am I going to be able to make it back to the trailhead? Everyone has a different comfort zone, therefore it is imperative that the condition of the trail be effectively communicated to the public. It must be designed according to its TMO, maintained according to the TMO, and be signed accordingly. Riders can get out of their comfort zone when signs are missing, the tread does not appear stable or of adequate width, trees haven’t been cut out, or the trail is so overgrown it is hard to distinguish the tread from a game trail. All of these make the riders question what they’re getting into.
Comfort zone does not mean the trail is free of challenge. Comfort zone is how a rider feels on the trail on a given day. Individual riders will have differing levels of comfort on the same trail on different days. Trails are not one size fits all. Challenge is part of the experience the trail provides. Riders make a conscious decision to seek out challenges and many riders are in their comfort zone doing so. If challenge is imposed on the riders by surprise, it then becomes a risk, and risk can lead to liability.
Efficiency. This is the use of the landscape and structures to efficiently meet the riders’ needs. With efficient design, riders would rather be on the trail than off it because it is the path of least resistance, it’s the fastest, and it is fun. Why is this important? When efficiency is lost, trail widening, braiding, and resource impacts can occur.
Efficiency is lost when:
Playfulness. A trail that is playful moves with the landscape and uses the landscape to create flow and a fun factor. The creative use of anchors, gateways, and edges is playfulness. A continual change in horizontal and vertical alignment is playfulness. Continually changing the viewshed of the riders is playfulness. Constantly changing the experience of the riders is playfulness. Playfulness is one reason that roads do not make good trails. Roads tend to be straight and predictable. Trails are curvilinear with a sense of wonder around each curve. Roads cut through trees, trails go around them. Roads blast through rocks, trails go around them or over them.
Harmony. Harmony is a rider’s feeling about how well the trail fits the landscape. A harmonious trail utilizes shapes, edges, anchors, and gateways and is designed to be playful and efficient while keeping the riders in their comfort zone. Harmony puts it all together. Harmony has rhythm and flow. A highly engineered trail with multiple structures and trail hardening is less harmonious than a primitive natural surface trail. A newly constructed trail isn’t as harmonious as an established trail. A machine-built trail may not be as harmonious as a hand-built trail.
The riders’ perception and reaction to the five factors of the human feeling is what makes a great trail great.. The physical trail laying on the ground may be sustainable, but it doesn’t become a great trail until the combination of the human elements stimulate the riders’ emotions and cause the riders to exclaim: “WOW, that was a great trail!”
It is important for the designers to understand this relationship between physical shapes and emotional responses and then to creatively seek and arrange those shapes, anchors, edges, gateways, the big WOW, and the little wow into a sequence that will create an image in the riders’ minds and stimulate the riders’ emotional responses. The trail is the connecting link between each one of those elements.
Triggering the positive emotional response also includes the riders’ perception of the trail as part of the environment. The more that the trail fits the landscape, the more the trail will be perceived by the riders as being natural and the more likely that the trail will stimulate those emotional responses within the riders. The level of that response can be controlled by the physical relationship between the trail and the feature. Altering the approach, proximity, or length of time in the proximity of a feature can create a stronger or weaker response.
Artists have their color palette, but the landscape is the palette for the trail designers. The artist has seven elements with which to create art: line, color, value (contrast), shape (2D), form (3D), texture, and space (scale or depth). Most of these terms have been used to describe the illustrations in this chapter because the trail designers use these same elements to create the images that will mold the riders’ perceptions. Is creating a great trail art or science? It is both.
Flow is the continual horizontal and vertical movement of the trail on the landscape without conflicting with the landscape. Flow is the rhythm of the trail and the riders feel that rhythm as the riders flow with the trail. That flow and rhythm stimulates emotional responses within the riders which is why it helps make a great trail great.
Designers purposefully create flow. Rarely does it happen by accident. As designers flag in a trail, they should be riding the trail in their minds and tracking the experience they are creating. Sure, they must keep track of the grade, alignment, and drainage points, but they also must seek out anchors, gateways, edges, and viewpoints. Those experiences need to be mixed up so the riders are encountering variety and cannot wait to see what is around the next curve. Designers control the viewshed of the riders. On a trail with good flow that view should be constantly changing. Flow can be open and gentle or tight and technical. A trail that carefully transitions from one to another adds variety and increases the recreation experience.
A trail with flow has the following:
If at all possible, take the riders where they want to go and provide a variety of experiences while doing it.
Edges, shapes, gateways, and anchors need to be creatively mixed up and have short duration. The fenceline makes a cool edge, but not for mile after mile. A great trail will utilize the fenceline briefly, leave it to offer the riders some other features or experiences, and then maybe come back to the fenceline.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter:
The key to a great trail is in the location of the trail and in the arrangement of certain physical features that can stimulate powerful perceptions and feelings. Indeed, the landscape is like a giant trail jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are out there, but where? And how do they get arranged? Is there more than one way to solve the puzzle and if so, which is the best way?
When finding the best location for a trail, the locators provide for the riders’ needs by managing the vehicle use and the riders’ viewshed, speed, and experience all while protecting the natural resources. That is a heavy load to carry and it takes careful decisions to effectively place a trail on the landscape that meets all of those objectives.
The effort takes both physical and mental energy and can leave locators exhausted in both capacities. The locators need to be mentally sharp and physically prepared for a tough day of walking in the field. But the result of all this effort will be a well-designed, environmentally friendly trail that is fun to ride and a great success.
Locators should take a close look at the scope and complexity of these eleven items. Each has equal weight and all except the vision and the TMO can change from one side of the ridge to the other. Great trails don’t happen by accident, they are created by thoughtful and purposeful design. If someone on the project team doesn’t have the range of skills and experience required, it is worth seeking professional assistance.
1. Know the Complete Trail Picture. All of the eleven items are important to know, but the TMO has a direct bearing on almost every flag the locators hang. Generic TMOs were created during the development of the concept plan. Those TMOs could change if necessary during the location process once actual site conditions are thoroughly examined, but they are a place to start. The vehicle type will affect trail width, grade, and the physical forces applied to the trail. How the trail will be constructed will determine whether the team goes around a stump for hand-build or through the stump for machine build. The intended challenge level will affect whether the team goes around the rock for an easier trail or over the rock for a more technical trail.
2. Use the Concept Plan. Considerable work was invested in developing the concept plan, so it is a good place to start. Locators should use it as a guide, but recognize that it will likely change once more reconnaissance is performed and actual site conditions are identified.
3. Identify Termini and Control Points. In developing the concept plan, opportunities and constraints were identified as positive and negative control points. Knowing the termini and the control points can significantly shrink the size of the landscape and restrict where the trail can or can’t go. Since they are so important, these points should be verified during the location and design processes. Also, depending on the amount of field time invested in developing the concept plan, the locators should look for additional opportunities or constraints.
4. Break Up the Elephant into Chewable Chunks. Figuring out how to access a large landscape can be overwhelming. The locators should use logical terrain features (like ridgeline to ridgeline) to break the landscape into smaller parcels. They should take careful notes, photos, and GPS data to help them join the parcels together.
5. Conduct Total Reconnaissance. Features can be hidden and soils can change dramatically. The locators should thoroughly explore each parcel to uncover its opportunities and constraints. GIS modeling can display a corridor with the optimum side slope, soils, and vegetation. While this can be a handy tool, it can also be a trap if the locators fail to look outside of this corridor. Some of the best terrain features can be found in areas that could be classified as unsuitable. The locators should find the features and then make their own determination as to whether or not the trail should or could be there.
6. Connect the Dots. Once the controls are identified, what is left is to connect one control to another. While this sounds easy, the last thing locators want to do is just arbitrarily connect the dots. The space between controls is where the designers can play with the landscape, find those big and little WOWs, and provide variety and fun to enhance the riders’ experience. This is the fun and creative part of trail location and design.
Here are some key points:
7. Revise the Concept Plan. Once all of the landscape parcels are connected together with actual flag lines, chances are that there have been a bunch of changes in loop configurations, junction locations, trail difficulty, and even trail use type. Locators should make sure that the plan is still compliant with the environmental documentation and update the concept plan. It will then become the design plan, which will be used through construction and maintenance.
8. Develop Final TMOs. The TMO has key information that triggers important design-build-maintenance parameters. Now is the time to update and finalize the TMOs so they can accompany the design plan through the remaining portions of the great trail continuum.
9. Prepare a Trail Log if Necessary. The trail log is a list of work items that the designers prepare for the construction crew or contractor. Items would include: turnouts, rolling dips, chokes, special challenge features, easy-outs, drains, all structures and their size and length, trail hardening, and any special design items or notes. The trail log is where the locators and the designers have the opportunity to communicate their vision and intent with whomever is doing the construction. The trail log and the TMO are key documents used to develop a construction contract packet.
Once the locators have done their job, it is time for the designers to step in. Since the landscape is the pieces of the giant trail system jigsaw puzzle, it is important that the designers recognize and understand the clues to each piece. This allows the designers to make informed decisions regarding the environment and rider experience, and thus assemble the pieces into a great trail.
The photos below show some examples of what the landscape can tell designers.
A look at the landscape can also reveal changes in aspect, such as north-facing slopes versus south-facing slopes. The soils, vegetation, and micro climate can change, sometimes dramatically, from one side of the ridge to the other. North-facing slopes are generally cooler, wetter, and have more dense vegetation than south-facing slopes. Changing aspect is a good way to add variety and enhance the rider experience. It is also a good way to increase the durability of the trail tread. If the north aspect appears to be so wet that hardening or structures may be required, try putting more of the trail on the south side. Likewise, if the soils on the south slope are not durable because they are non-cohesive, try switching to the north slope for better conditions.
In snow country, the aspect of the slope could be a consideration. North-facing slopes will hold snow longer than south-facing slopes. If two segments of the trail or trail system are on south slopes and the only connector between the two is high up on a north slope, the trail system will have no connectivity until all of the snow melts up high. When riders come to a snow field, they will look for a way around it and this could lead to management problems and resource impacts. If possible, designers should consider putting in another connector trail at a lower elevation. This will allow the trail system to be fully utilized earlier in the year and can provide another loop opportunity after all of the snow is gone.
The prevailing direction from which storms approach should also be considered by the designer. If there is topography, storms will generally dump more water on the windward side than on the leeward side.
The landscape changes in every region of the country and with that, the clues change. In order to locate a sustainable trail, designers must understand that landscape or consult with someone who does.
Make the Trail Flow with the Landscape. Making a trail flow starts with viewing a landscape, identifying the places the trail should go, and then visualizing the least intrusive route to get there.
When putting trails into the landscape, consider:
Use the Landscape to Enhance the Rider Experience. Every landscape has topographic or vegetative features that can be creatively used to enhance the rider experience. There can be big WOWs or subliminal wows, but like gateways and anchors, the challenge for designers is to find them and piece them together.
Here are some thoughts:
Here are eight tips designers can use to create a great trail.
1. Speed is an issue. Reduce speeds to:
How to achieve those benefits:
2. Topography is a friend. Head for the hills and avoid flat ground. Use topography for:
How to achieve those benefits:
3. Vegetation is good. Vegetation allows:
The benefits of dense, woody vegetation include:
How to achieve those benefits:
4. Water is an issue. Manage water to:
How to achieve those benefits:
5. Create a recreation experience, not a transportation experience. Benefits of a quality recreation experience include:
6. Avoid Point A to Point B location. Avoiding the straight line will:
How to achieve those benefits:
7. Head for the rocks. Rocks can:
How to achieve those benefits:
Manage the riders’ eyes. Controlling the riders’ eyes helps:
How to achieve those benefits:
Road Crossings. One place with potential risk is a road crossing. Roads can be low standard with low traffic volume and peed or high standard with high traffic volume and speed, but the trail crossing design is the same for both.
When designing road crossings:
Creek Crossings. Many areas do not allow for tire and water contact or it may be allowed in only intermittent or non-fish-bearing streams. Check the classification of the stream and follow the crossing guidance in the management plan or other environmental document.
Here are some things to keep in mind for creek crossing:
Bridge Sites. Bridge sites need to be carefully selected and properly engineered. If at all possible, avoid having a bridge site down in a canyon where the only access is by having steep trail grades that lead directly down to the bridge, which can deliver sediment directly into the creek.
For bridge sites:
Ridges. It is human nature to want to get to the top, and a ridge trail is often at the top or leading riders to it. Ridges can offer dramatic views, wind-blown character trees, unusual rock formations, and almost always a change in topography and vegetation. All of these are good, desirable features; however, the goal for the trail designers is to arrange these in a series of big WOWs and little wows that treats and enhances the rider experience. Ridgetop trails can be undesirable because they often: follow the fall line, can be difficult to drain, do not provide enough riding diversity, do not vary the viewshed of the riders, do not frame the unique features for the riders, and divide rather than harmonize with the landscape.
Most ridgelines have game or livestock trails on them, so the easy path for the trail locators is to follow them. This is a trap. A better alternative is to wind a serpentine trail up the ridgeline, crossing from one side to the other. This creates positive drainage, varies the landscape for the riders, improves the aesthetics of the trail, and can create some dramatic views and scenic diversity.
Saddles are low points in ridgelines and as such they are natural targets for trail locators to cross over a ridgeline. However, they can drain water from both directions and any trail passing through the saddle can intercept this water. The designers must carefully assess the drainage patterns in a saddle and design the trail with drain points on each side of the saddle.
Meadows. Everyone enjoys looking at a meadow. Meadows offer vegetative diversity and beauty, often a chance to see wildlife, and usually a chance for a great panoramic view. As in a ridgetop trail, why put the trail through a meadow and divide, rather than harmonize with, the landscape? If possible, it is better to locate the trail in the trees, give the riders brief glimpses of the meadow to tantalize them into wondering what a full view would be like, pop them out to the edge while directing their eyes at the meadow and a WOW view, and then take them back into the trees again for variety before treating them once again to a view of the meadow. Designers should play with the riders’ eyes and the rider experience to create a great trail.
Here are some points about meadows:
Climbing Turns. If the side slope is less than 25 percent and there is room for a curve radius of more than 8 feet, locating a climbing turn is almost always a better alternative than a switchback. Why? Climbing turns maintain flowmentum, are easier to ride by most riders, and have less tread impacts and resulting maintenance.
Considerations for climbing turns:
Switchbacks. In terrain steeper than 35 percent or rocky, gnarly terrain that won’t accommodate a climbing turn, a switchback becomes a necessity. Switchbacks have a radius of less than 8 feet and they can be very challenging to ride if they are not designed and constructed properly.
Here are some thoughts on switchbacks:
Trail Junctions. A well-planned trail system should have multiple loops, so well- designed trail junctions are required to access those loops. Trail junctions serve as decision points that help disperse the riders and enhance their experience by providing variety.
Things to keep in mind for trail junctions:
Sound Intrusion to Residents. Sound is produced by physical vibration that creates audible waves of pressure. Design can mitigate sound. Unwanted sound perceived as noise produces a negative psychological reaction. It cannot be mitigated outside of sound mitigations
Mitigate sound by:
Grade Reversals. Grade reversals provide positive drainage, low maintenance, and are the most effective way to reduce tread watershed size. As such, they are the primary tool available for the designers to manage water. Many people refer to a rolling dip as a grade reversal. Technically it is, but a grade reversal is a drainage feature designed into a trail during location and a rolling dip is a constructed drainage structure that is added to a trail.
Here are some key points about grade reversals:
Turnouts. There are many benefits to two-way trails, but with steep topography or dense vegetation, opportunities to pass other riders can be limited. In addition, when riders try to squeeze by, weight on the outside of the trail can damage the trail shoulder making the trail narrower and potentially unstable. This can be remedied by designing in turnouts. As in roads, turnouts offer a place of refuge from an oncoming rider or a safe place out of the lane of traffic to rest, look at the map, or take photos. Turnouts are usually placed at the outside of horizontal curves, the crest of vertical curves, in thick vegetation with limited sight distance, or on very steep ground where riders don’t want to back up. Spacing between turnouts depends on traffic speed, volume, and the physical conditions of the site.
Here are some considerations regarding turnouts:
Sometimes a trail just won’t cooperate with the plan that was put down on paper. When this situation occurs, designers and planners should check the environmental document and talk to the manager. The intent of the plan document can often give designers more latitude than they may think. Depending on the political climate and the comfort level of the manager, a quick resource survey and letter for the file may be all that is needed to relocate a troublesome trail. The tips below will help mitigate the issues if the trail must go in a less than ideal situation.
The Fall Line. Using a fall line trail has inherent issues.
Tips for using fall line trails are:
Using Natural Surface Roads for 50-inch Trails. If natural surface (NS) roads can be converted to trails, take advantage of the opportunity There are pitfalls of using NS roads, but the reality is that NS roads are going to be used as trails, so the key is to minimize the pitfalls (tread watershed) and maximize the experience. The experience that the NS road provides depends on two factors: the standard of the NS road and the setting that the NS road is in. The road standard is determined by factors like speed (high versus low), alignment (straight versus serpentine), and surface type (gravel or native).
The setting is what is around the NS road. What is there for the riders to see and do the riders want to see it? Are their eyes confined to a corridor or are they open to a panorama? Is there scenic diversity? A high standard road tends to provide a transportation experience while a low standard road tends to provide a recreation or trail experience. However, a high standard road in a highly scenic setting can easily transform the experience from transportation to a quality recreation experience.
Here are some thoughts regarding using natural surface roads for trails:
Connect One Natural Surface Road to Another. This is a common scenario. The connector will be the only chance to provide a high-quality trail experience. Seize the opportunity to maximize that experience. If there is only a quarter mile between the two natural surface roads, try to squeeze in one-half to three-fourth mile of fun trail.
Using Flat Ground. Flat ground is not a sustainable trail location. However, sometimes it is required or desirable to use it.
When placing a trail on flat ground:
Inability to Relocate the Existing Trail.
Watch for the Red Flags. The need for multiple structures and trail hardening installations can be a red flag indicator of a poor location due to poor soils, wet ground, or unstable ground. Perhaps the trail shouldn’t be there. Are there other options? If not, then plan for an increased maintenance budget.
Water, Water, and More Water. It can’t be emphasized enough. Managing water is a primary key to a sustainable trail. The designers must look for all water sources entering the trail bed. The more water that comes onto the trail, the more often the designers must design ways to get it off the trail.
Too Steep, Too Long. The most common cause of trail rutting and erosion is from the grade being too steep, or the grade being too long without a drain or grade reversal. Or worse yet, the grade is both too steep and too long. The combination of the two is hard to mitigate. The steeper the trail grade is, the closer it becomes to a fall line trail with all of its inherent issues. How steep is too steep and how long is too long? There are many variables: soil type, climate, storm patterns, tread watershed size, use type, and use level, to name just a few.
Is There a Good Line? Since design is about making decisions, one of the best tests of a line is to walk it again after a couple of days. Designers should ask themselves the same critical questions: should I be here or there? If the answers are the same, they probably have the trail in the right location.
If possible during construction, designers should physically ride the trail. If something isn’t right, they can fix it while the equipment is still there. If the designers can’t ride the trail until after construction, they should acknowledge the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect trail. The important thing is that if a designer has made a mistake, the mistake should be corrected if possible and not made again elsewhere.
Is It a Fix or a Solution? Is adding a rolling dip or throwing pavers on a grade that is too long and too steep a fix or a solution? The problem is that the tread watershed is too large and the problem is still there even if mitigated with a dip or pavers. There is an installation cost, a regular maintenance cost, and a repair cost due to a significant weather event or poor installation. Too often, managers choose a bandage fix over the solution of relocating the trail. Putting the trail where it ought to be improves resource protection, enhances rider experience, and can cost the program less money in the long term.
Take a Trip. Good designers learn from their experiences. They should visit or ride other trail systems so they can ride good trails and bad trails. They should assess what made the bad trails bad and avoid those scenarios in their design. Likewise, they should assess what made the good trails good and incorporate those scenarios. Better yet, they should embellish those good points to make a good trail great.
Design for the Riders’ Eyes. Designing for the riders’ eyes means putting the trail where the riders think it will be. If the trail does something unexpected, it can be difficult for the riders, which can lead to resource impacts and risk. That is why the designers must understand the vehicles and the rider experience. When locating a trail, designers should ride the trail in their mind as they are laying it out. Does it flow? Does it feel right? What is the TMO for the trail? Some riders like the challenge of difficult situations. However, in some situations, such as in soft soils, challenge can increase maintenance cost. That may be okay if that is the best way to meet the riders’ needs and if it is consistent with the TMO. Design is all about making decisions: what best fits the site parameters.
Get Help. Trail location and design are parts of a very complex process that requires journeyman knowledge and experience in a multitude of disciplines. If team members don’t possess that level of knowledge, get help; otherwise either the trail or the resources or both could suffer. The belief that trails are simple and anyone can design one is false, and it shows when the team has to go back and try to fix the mistakes.
The evolution of trails: Due to the forces of compaction, displacement, and erosion, trails will change over time. With sustainable design, those forces can be slowed and managed, but not stopped. When first constructed, the tread often appears smooth and sanitized and riders often reject them as being unnatural. But in time, rocks and roots will appear, loose rocks will get rolled out of the way, and some of the features that were easy to negotiate become a little harder to negotiate. So the experience and challenge level can change. This is due to a trail settling into the landscape and the effects of thousands of vehicles and hundreds of weather events. Change is not necessarily bad and is often beneficial, but it should be anticipated by the designers and managers and be reflected in the TMO. This will ensure that after the trail has settled in, the challenge level still falls within the parameters of the TMO. In maintenance, signs get replaced, blowdowns get removed, hazards get addressed, structures get inspected and addressed, and spot tread maintenance occurs, but rarely does the entire tread get maintained. If the condition of the trail after evolution will not be acceptable, then the managers must take steps now to keep the trail in its as-built condition.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter:
Like any other modality, an integral part of trail riding is challenge: riders constantly push themselves to determine how good they are and how good is their machine. Challenging trails or features can provide a boost of fun, excitement, extended seat time, camaraderie, and self-confidence if the rubber side stays down. By choice, they take riders out of their comfort zone. Adrenaline is pumped out as riders negotiate challenge and are left with a rush of endorphins as they complete the challenge. This creates a chemical high that contributes to the “WOW! That was a great trail!” feeling at the end of the day. These experiences and sensations are desirable and when trail planners provide them, they are definitely providing for the riders’ needs.
The issue, though, is how to provide for those needs and still have a sustainable trail. As one group of riders said: “We want sustainable trails, but don’t take away our hillclimbs.” In most cases, this is an oxymoron. In an era of rules like the 50 percent rule and the 10 percent average grade rule, it can be easy to design out excitement and challenge. That is why trail planners focus on making informed decisions on a given site rather than on conforming to rules. In many cases, planners and designers may have more latitude than they think.
There are five ways to create and provide challenge: 1) utilize natural features; 2) utilize design features; 3) utilize manufactured topographic features; 4) utilize natural topographic features; and 5) utilize manufactured design features. A good designer will use all five, either independently or together, to create the desired experience.
1. Utilize natural features. These are features like rock outcrops, boulders, rock step-ups, scree, slab rock, slick rock, and cliffs. Notice that these are all rock features. Rock is generally more durable than soil and offers opportunities for a varied and challenging riding experience. Riding a smooth surface trail can be fun, but throwing in some rocks occasionally can increase that fun.
Soil type also fits into the natural feature category. Often, designers don’t have a choice of the soil type that the trail goes through, but if they do, soil type can definitely affect challenge level. In dry climates, sandy soils are more challenging than silt or clay. In wet climates, silt turns to mud and clay turns into slick gumbo, but wet sand holds up quite nicely.
Although rocks are durable, the soil around them usually isn’t as durable. Going from rock to rock can work well, but going from rock to soil to rock may result in considerable soil displacement. On some trails, ledges will continue to get higher as spinning tires displace the soil at the base of the ledge. Eventually, even experienced riders may start looking for a bypass. Designers should anticipate this and harden the approaches to these features if possible.
2. Utilize design features. While topographic features may be limited, there are a host of design features available, including grade, vertical alignment, horizontal alignment, obstacles, clearing, tread, and exposure. Grade is one of the challenge features that riders like the most, but it’s also one that can cause the most impacts. The key is for designers to look at a given situation and make an assessment on how steep the grade can be. Grade pitches, even short ones, can increase the interest and variety of the trail.
Even if there aren’t steeper pitches, keeping the vertical alignment moving increases difficulty while increasing sustainability and fun factor, and reducing speed.
As with vertical alignment, it is important to keep the horizontal alignment moving. Take advantage of tree or brush thickets to tighten up the alignment. The tighter it is, the more technical it is. If ATVs and ROVs have to back up to negotiate a turn, up to a point it makes the trail more challenging. Compound curves, broken back curves, and non-circular curves can increase difficulty by decreasing flow, but they can also increase tread impacts.
Chicanes are another tool to slow down riders and increase challenge. A chicane is a feature that creates another set of turns, so a chicane hugs a rock or a tree where a circular curve goes around the rock or tree. Chicanes interrupt flow and are okay on tight and technical alignments, but shouldn’t be used on open and flowing alignments without slowing the riders down first.
Obstacles are a great way of increasing challenge. The issue with using obstacles is that they can be removed over time through maintenance or by well-intentioned riders trying to help out. If obstacles are intended to be left for challenge features, they must be documented in the TMO, and the intent of the TMO must be communicated to the maintenance personnel. Riding over obstacles like roots, rocks, and stumps can increase the degree of challenge.
Six elements can affect the degree of challenge for obstacles: size, frequency, stability, traction, location, and position.
Putting all of these elements together, the most challenging scenario would be many large, loose, slippery, and smooth obstacles placed in a curve. What if the trail doesn’t have any obstacles? Import them, or instead of wasting slash during trail clearing, bring some of it back in after construction and stake it in place to create obstacles.
Soil type can play an important part in deciding whether or not to incorporate obstacles. It takes traction to negotiate obstacles. While soft soils can increase technical challenge, that can also equate to unwanted tread impacts and maintenance costs as less skilled riders spin their tires to negotiate obstacles.
The properties of most soils change as the weather changes and with that the rideability and challenge changes, sometimes dramatically in just a few hours. This is a factor that designers need to consider when playing with alignment and features. As friction or traction changes, so does the level of challenge. Also, as the cohesiveness of the soil decreases, its resistance to displacement decreases, so what was a durable challenge feature one day, may not be so durable the next day.
Clearing width should be kept tight. The narrower it is, the slower the riders will go. They’ll go even slower if there is a risk of losing a fender or breaking plastic. That risk equates to challenge. Having green leg slappers or brush scrapping down the side of a vehicle not only slows and confines the use, it gives riders the illusion that they are pioneering a trail. It also affects their perception of safety.
Vertical clearing or pruning height can also challenge riders and enhance their experience. Designers can create a tunnel effect; but brush is one thing, immovable objects like logs are another, especially if vehicles without roll bars are using the trails. Designers need to take extreme care to ensure that the speed is down and that riders have adequate time and visibility to see the overhanging log, but this practice places the agency at risk. What if the log breaks and becomes a spear? What if vegetation grows in so riders can’t see it coming? It’s a poor practice and not worth the risk.
There are guidelines for clearing height and width, but many of them appear to be founded on reducing agency risk rather than increasing rider experience. Designers should look at the TMO and then assess what features or opportunities they have on site to create the desired experience.
A rough, inconsistent tread is more challenging to ride than a smooth, consistent one.
The design elements for tread are: width, irregular tread surface or rugosity, and irregular tread plane.
Width. A narrower tread has the same effect and benefits as narrower clearing. Note: Narrower equals challenge equals reduced speed; wider equals less challenge equals increased speed. Changing the tread width can add variety and challenge if it’s consistent with the TMO. A good design tool is a choke, which is a narrowing of the trail tread accompanied by a restrictor like trees or rocks. These are similar to a gateway or anchor except that the tread width is less than the design standard. Chokes slow riders down by reducing their perception of safety: “Am I going to fit through that?” These are good in advance of junctions, technical sections, or anyplace else designers want the riders to slow down. Unless the speed is already slow or the trail is extremely technical, it is essential that riders have adequate sight distance to see the choke coming and prepare accordingly to negotiate it.
A similar tool is the perceived choke. With these, the tread does not narrow up, but the clearance between trees or obstacles does. Usually, the trail corridor is cleared for a specified distance wider than the trail tread so that tree trunks are away from the trail shoulder, but tree limbs could still protrude into the trailway. Except for single track, OHV trail treads are wider than the machine. When there is zero clearance from the shoulder to the trees, there is adequate width for the ATV, ROV, or 4WD to pass through, but the riders’ perception is that it is too narrow and they will brake hard.
Chokes serve as anchors and gateways. If the restrictors are less than wheel height, the riders will slow up much less than if they were above wheel height because they are less of a perceived threat. The higher the restrictors, the more intimidating they become.
When a rider is placed in a situation where a mistake could lead to equipment damage or loss, personal injury, or death; that is called exposure. Exposure equals challenge. Exposure is usually, but not necessarily, associated with cliffs or very steep, open sideslopes. When a rider is on a narrow trail and it is 1,000 feet almost straight down to the river; that is exposure. Add in an outsloped tread, obstacles, and slick soils and the degree of exposure has been compounded.
From a challenge standpoint, the designer has several options: exclude exposure sections, include exposure sections if consistent with the TMO, change the length of exposure, and change the frequency of exposure.
To manage risk, it is important that exposure be reflected in the difficulty level of the trail, usually black diamond or double black diamond depending on the degree of exposure. Good entrance management and filters should also be employed to inform and limit unskilled riders. Since exposure can be an extreme challenge, it should be highlighted on the trail map and website and should include additional signing at the trail entrance.
3. Utilize manufactured topographic features. Manufactured topographic features include the remnants of extraction activities like rock pits, quarries, open-pit mines, and borrow pits; old landings; drill pads; processing and transfer sites; and runways (that is, any large area that has been used for another activity). What is good about these? They are already heavily impacted sites, so they are often a wash from a resource standpoint. As such, they offer an opportunity to be used as OHV facilities where high impact use could occur with little impact on the environment.
The sites in remnants of extraction activity areas could be used for OHV training areas, mudding, pit-squid activity, hillclimb, and rock crawl by 4WDs, ROVs, and ATVs. These sites are often referred to as play areas or open areas that have little or no development.
The large areas that have been used for another activity could now also be used for OHV training areas, MX tracks, and technical challenge courses like terrain parks and endurocross. These activities require a higher level of development and often a higher level of maintenance for which management may not want to assume responsibility.
There are segments of people in the OHV community who have little interest in trails. These include rock crawlers, dune riders, mud riders, MX riders, pit squids, and often younger kids. Open areas provide places for these activities to occur. Some people think that open areas are just sacrifice areas. Not so. Like trails, they are designed and managed for a specific use or activity. In addition to providing a place for challenge and high-impact activities, open areas are excellent OHV management tools. When legal areas exist to do non-trail related activities, trail managers or rangers can direct the use away from non-legal areas to the legal areas. It is always better to work with human nature than against it.
An argument against open areas is that if designers provide for that use, they are telling the public that those activities are acceptable? Not at all, and in fact the opposite. What designers are saying is that those activities are not acceptable elsewhere, but they are acceptable here and only here.
Liability often comes up in discussions about open areas. The bottom line is that there is liability in everything. The issue is how the risk is managed. Play or open areas need to be signed that the area is to be used at the riders’ own risk. The designers may add rocks for a rock crawl, a couple of simple dirt mounds for kids, or a mudding area, but as long as the designers aren’t constructing technical features like doubles, triples, and table tops that require precise construction and maintenance, the risk is low. Unless a trail team member carelessly does something that changes the condition of the site without signing or warning of the change (like dumping storm-damaged culverts or a bridge, removing the back half of a mound, or creating a vertical face where it was once sloped), the risk is managed.
Almost any size area can be used from a quarter acre to 40 acres or more. Depending on the expected use level, the bigger the better; but anything is usually better than nothing.
Since open areas are designated sites, there needs to be signing to identify the site, and the perimeter of the area should be clearly marked with boundary markers.
4. Utilize natural topographic features. Natural topographic features include any area where unrestricted cross-country riding is allowed. These are usually sand dunes, scab flats, rock knobs, or hills that have durable soils. These open areas are natural features, not commercially impacted features. Like the open areas discussed above, they are designed and managed to accommodate a specific use or activity and they need to be signed accordingly. They can offer high speed, high fun, and high challenge.
One use for natural topographic features is as observed trials courses. What trials riders can do on a motorcycle is amazing. Like rock crawl, they need a variety of large obstacles and since it is a spectator sport, public access to the site is important. Very slow speeds and very low tire pressures make this a low-impact activity. Trials doesn’t require a large area, only a few acres can be sufficient if the area has the right mix of terrain features. If designers have a suitable site, they could consider designating it for trials practice and events.
5. Utilize manufactured design features. In spite of all the tools available above, the reality is that there are many places that can’t provide sustainable, quality technical challenge. Either they don’t have the topography, features, or soils; or are too dry or too wet. Yet riders still want and need challenge, so how do designers provide that? It’s time to think outside of the box and create it. By creating it, designers have the control to design what they want, where they want it. Management of the use, rider experience, and the resources can all benefit from that. The mountain bike community discovered this several years ago and has upped the challenge and fun factor with the development of coasters, ladder bridges, terrain parks, pump tracks, and freeride facilities. The OHV community could learn and benefit from these examples.
Other than site constraints and possibly funding, the ability to manufacture features is only limited by a person’s level of vision and creativity. The opportunistic designer or manager keeps an eye out for free or low-cost material sources by staying in tune with other construction activities in the area that could have win-win potential: a road or building project that needs a waste site for dirt, stumps, logs, or rock; a building being demolished that could be a source for bricks or concrete chunks; a tire shop that needs to dispose of used or recalled tires; and the list goes on. Repurposing materials destined for a landfill or other disposal facility helps the environment while helping designers provide for and manage the OHV use.
Liability often comes up in this discussion also, but again the mountain bikers have set the example for risk management by incorporating tools to limit liability, including entrance management, filters, effective signing, easy-outs, access control, design standards, and inspection and maintenance protocols.
What makes a great trail great? Variety. Use the ways outlined in this chapter to create variety and mix them up, but even then, do riders want to bounce over rocks and roots, squeeze between trees, hang on the edge of a cliff, or have poor flow for 20 miles? That type of trail isn’t fun. To the extent that it’s consistent with the TMO, challenge features should be intermixed with all of the other design tools that truly make a great trail great.
There are plenty of creative options mentioned above to provide technically challenging experiences, but there are some things that shouldn’t be done.
Remember that challenge is an expectation, risk is a surprise. Minimize the surprises.
Managers often ask, "Can I use existing trails?" The answer is the standard: “It depends.” A designated trail system is usually comprised of routes that come from three sources: 1) user-created trails that become incorporated into the system; 2) roads, trails, skid trails, seismic lines, or other routes that are repurposed as OHV trails; and 3) purpose-built trails that have been designed for a specific use or activity. The problem routes are usually those that were incorporated under the first two categories. Planners and designers should use these trails judiciously because although they have low up-front costs, they have inherent problems and risk that can result in high long-term operational costs.
There are four components to trail sustainability: 1) resource sustainability, 2) political or social sustainability, 3) experience sustainability, and 4) managerial sustainability. These are powerful. If a trail does not have all four components, it could fail.
Resource sustainability. Will the trail provide resource protection in the long term? This is the definition that most people use when referring to sustainable trails.
Experience sustainability. The agency can have a resource sustainable trail, but what if the riders don’t like it? Will the trail provide the desired recreation experience in the long term?
Political or social sustainability. The agency can have a great trail that has both resource and experience sustainability but is in the wrong place and is unsupportable from a political or social standpoint. There could be visual impacts, noise impacts, or the social impact of “I don’t want to see that activity there.”
Managerial sustainability. There are several aspects of sustainability. One aspect is economic sustainability. A trail in the wrong location can sometimes be mitigated by increasing maintenance and monitoring. But at some point, the cost of having the trail in that location may not be worth it. Another aspect is defensibility. Is the land manager is a position to be able to justify the trail in that location? Also, are the skills of the maintenance and monitoring personnel suitable for the trail? Does the trail meet the needs of the riders?
When asked where there might be a place to have hillclimbs, the riders said: “Here, this is the perfect place for sustainable hillclimbs. They’ve been there forever and they’re the greatest.” They were right. There was durable soil, favorable climate, few ruts, almost no erosion, and high fun factor and challenge. Other than a visual scar, there were few adverse effects from years or decades of use. For all practical purposes, they had resource and experience sustainability.
Except those hillclimbs were located in a huge meadow that was determined to be a sensitive grassland environment; they were visible from a main recreation access road; they contributed noise impacts to residents; and they represented years of abuse and misuse to an intolerant community and media. They weren’t politically sustainable and today they are closed and rehabbed.
Erosion is an ongoing process. It can be managed, but never stopped. Some of the best trail and technical challenge opportunities have been created through erosion, so erosion isn’t necessarily bad. It depends on where it is occurring and its effect on other resources. If other resource values are low and there is no stream connectivity, the movement of soil particles from point A to point B is not loss, it’s relocation. If the land manager feels comfortable with the effects, keeping the erosion may be an option. Given the same scenario with the same manager in a different location, the answer could be different.
In looking at a heavily eroded trail, it is easy for a designer to give up and say: “There is nothing to be done with this except close it.” That may be true, but some type of drainage needs to be installed just to close and rehab the trail, so if that effort has to be made anyway, perhaps it’s worth keeping the trail, or at least portions of it.
Here are some management options:
Each situation is unique, so designers should start with an assessment. An engineer, soil scientist, hydrologist, botanist, or other specialists may need to be part of the team. It’s not a perfect world and creating great trails is about making informed decisions.
Here are some key questions to ask when assessing a trail:
This assessment and any resulting action decisions should be well documented.
The answers to the above questions will determine the options for moving forward. Using a severely damaged existing trail is rarely the best choice, but in some cases, it may be the only choice. Heavily eroded trails essentially become stream channels by intercepting all of the water flowing overland from above. Correcting the water flow can be difficult and expensive, but not impossible. There are costs to implement these actions and costs to maintain them.
Here are some things to consider:
So far, this chapter has discussed incorporating natural and manufactured features and designing for challenge. After designers have incorporated those features, they normally label the trail with a blue square (More Difficult), black diamond (Most Difficult), or double black diamond (Extremely Difficult). In reality though, only a percentage of the trail actually contains those challenge features, yet the whole trail is labeled to reflect the worst condition. In many cases, a black trail isn’t all black, it’s blue with a few black spots. Granted, there are those trails that are gnarly from start to finish and those should be labeled accordingly, but what about those that aren’t consistently gnarly?
Designers can install filters so that only riders with the proper skills can access a trail, but if only 20 percent of the trail is gnarly, there is 80 percent that could still be ridden by lesser skilled riders, but those riders can’t access it. Is that the best utilization of a trail resource?
If designers don’t install filters, what generally happens with the challenge features? The lesser skilled riders start looking for a way around the challenges. These are called easy-outs. Why this occurs relates directly back to the riders’ feelings about safety and efficiency. The easiest and most comfortable line may not be the straight line. This can result in braided trails and resource impacts.
There are three remedies for the problem of unskilled riders ruining or breaching technical features: design easy-outs, design technical options, or design with multiple lines.
If the tendency is to ride around a feature, why not design the feature with an easy-out so the trail team can control and manage the use? If all of the technical features on a trail had easy-outs, the overall difficulty rating may be lower and more riders of varied skills could utilize the trail. Easy-outs don’t have to be easy, they just need to be easier than the challenge feature.
Here is another consideration: maintenance. If equipment is going to be maintaining the trail, how does it get over a challenge feature without damaging it? An easy-out can provide a bypass for the maintenance equipment as well as the riders.
Even better than designing easy-outs is to design the entire trail as green or blue with technical outs where the riders have a choice of staying on a less technical route or riding a more technical section. The technical sections can be very short to take advantage of a boulder feature, or longer for a rock garden, but they all loop back to the main trail. If the trail was a double track, there could be both single-track and double-track technical options.
Here are some advantages of designing technical options rather than a technical trail:
Another technique from the mountain bikers is designing features with multiple approach lines, so one feature can offer several different challenge experiences depending on the riders’ feelings of safety and efficiency on a given day. Providing challenge features with choices increases the fun factor and decreases tread impacts. Of course, not all features can have multiple lines, but this is a great technique that should be incorporated wherever possible by the innovative designer. Again, an advantage of multiple lines is that one of them could allow a bypass for maintenance equipment so the more technical lines do not get damaged.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter:
All trails start at a trailhead or other facility. Those facilities may be the first and only opportunity for the agency to interact or communicate with the riders; therefore, they serve as a welcome center for the customers. As such, they play a key role in OHV management and rider experience. Human feelings and perceptions are powerful elements in making a great trail great. When visiting a trail, trailhead or other facility, an impression will be made in the mind of the riders. First impressions are lasting impressions and they can form in less than one tenth of a second.
That mental image will include feelings on several important components:
A negative answer to any one of these questions could trigger a negative impression of the site, the agency, and the experience the riders are about to have. A positive impression opens the riders’ minds for receptive communication and acceptance of the rules, regulations, and expected etiquette. Being free of negativity as they start down the trail, the riders can absorb the experience without bias, which sets the stage and opens the door for a WOW experience at the end of the day.
When designing facilities, it’s important to go back to the niche and vision for the project. Who are the customers? Where are they coming from? How many are there? What vehicle types will they bring? Will there be events? The answers to these questions affect the planning of the trail system as well as the design of the facilities. If the bulk of the customers travel less than 100 miles to ride, the trail will have predominantly day use. If customers travel more than 100 miles, the trail will become a destination where riders will spend a weekend or longer. From day use to destination, the vehicle type may change from pickups and trailers to motorhomes and toy haulers; the composition of the customers may change from individuals, buddies, or a family to groups of families, extended families, and clubs. This affects the number of people who could be at the facility at any one time and thus the size, design, and amenities of the facility. If the trail is a destination, riders will need overnight facilities like motels, RV parks, and campgrounds.
Others desire full hookups plus heated toilets and shower facilities. These are expensive, so don’t build them if they aren’t needed. Here is a key point: Most OHV riders would rather have a million dollar trail system than a million dollar campground.
Just as it is important to meet the riders’ needs of quality and variety on the trails, it is important to meet their facility needs as well. Keep the design simple and basic initially, but have room and the infrastructure to allow for future development and expansion. It’s a good strategy to implement the trails before the facilities, otherwise people have a place to park, but no place to ride. Then observe the use and needs of the facility and make adjustments to meet the needs of the customers.
The difference between a trailhead and a staging area is that a trailhead provides trail access for casual riders and a staging area provides access to trails and other activities like MX tracks, endurocross or technical terrain tracks, training areas, and concessions. A staging area usually has a larger parking area and often is used to stage events, so there may also be a pit area, starting area, gas row, and spectator area. When not being used for events, staging areas often provide an open area for dispersed camping where there is plenty of room to circle the wagons. Most OHV parks have staging areas whereas most forest trails have trailheads.
Other than size, both can have similar components. These include site signing, the trail access point, parking area, toilets, kiosks, loading ramps, and miscellaneous structures. For the most part, general design concepts will be covered, rather than specific design criteria.
Site Signing. As obvious as this component seems, there are too many OHV recreation sites that do not have an adequate identification sign out on the main road. Even though the site may be clearly visible from the road, someone who has never been there before doesn’t know if this is the intended destination or if it’s several miles farther up the road. Riders could also be arriving at night when the facility can’t be seen from the main road. Ensure that the sign is clearly visible, is reflective, and the text is legible and sized for the speed of the vehicles on the road.
If the site is off the main road on a secondary road, there should be a guide sign on the main road and a site sign on the secondary road at the actual entrance to the facility.
Trail Access. This is the access point to the trail(s). It is preferable to have access to multiple trails rather than just one trail. This allows for quick dispersal, provides loop options, and reduces traffic volume and thus potential tread maintenance.
Here are some key points on the trail access area:
Parking. When large vehicles with trailers need to be accommodated, managing traffic flow is very important to efficiently utilize the available space. The size and configuration of the parking lot is a huge factor in determining the riders’ first impression of the site. Those with trailers will park so they don’t have to back up to get out. Design to minimize the need for backing.
Some thoughts about parking are:
Toilets. Nothing leaves a lasting impression more than a toilet. A clean and relatively odor free toilet leaves a good impression. What is the impression left otherwise? Cleanliness is a maintenance issue, but odor is mostly a design issue. Too many toilets are located where it is convenient rather than where they will function the best. The critical design element for a sweet smelling toilet is airflow, which involves not only prevailing wind currents but thermal currents as well. Become knowledgeable of the science before siting a toilet. Air should move in the vent, down the riser, and up the vent stack. When users raise the toilet seat lid and a rush of nasty air hits them in the face, the airflow has not been managed correctly.
Here are some considerations for toilets:
Kiosks. The kiosk is the focal point of the trailhead. As such, it can be used to help draw attention to the trail access point. Unless there is a site host, the kiosk is the place for the agency to communicate with the riders and for the riders to gather the necessary information to plan their ride. Studies have shown that the period to have the riders’ attention is very short, so focus the information on what is most important to the riders, not necessarily the agency. Key messages need to be limited in number, stand out, and be brief.
Here are some points regarding kiosks:
Loading Ramps. Loading ramps have become almost a standard amenity at trailheads, however, when space is confined, they take up valuable real estate and can interfere with normal traffic flow. People got their vehicles loaded before they got to the trailhead; do they need a different way to unload them? Observe the use patterns and talk to the customers. This is one of those features that could be planned, but implemented at a later date if needed.
Some thoughts about loading ramps are:
Miscellaneous Structures. Some amenities can be desirable depending on the climate and use patterns of the site. A good time to flush out the need for these amenities is during the planning phase of the continuum, or by monitoring use patterns and implementing them after initial facility development. Miscellaneous structures include the following:
Variety has been stressed throughout this book, and it is applicable to campgrounds as well as trails. Customers arrive as individuals or in groups of all sizes, so the camping facilities should be designed to accommodate a range of group sizes and a range of vehicle types and sizes from tents to RVs. Many agencies have design guides for campgrounds; unfortunately, some of those focus on sites for tents and pickup campers but not for big rigs with trailers. Driving a big rig with a trailer through recreation facilities gives one an entirely different perspective on adequate road width, clearances, and turning radii. Navigating a big rig should be mandatory training for any recreation facility designer.
Just like a trail designer, the facility designer needs to understand the capabilities of the design vehicle. Consider mixing it up - the grade, turning radius, vertical and lateral clearances, back-in spurs, pull-throughs, objects hidden from view, group sites and areas, site protection, and the kiddie effect.
Mix it up. Depending on the vegetation and other site constraints, designers should try to accommodate as many combinations of vehicles and types as possible. This would include spurs and pull-through spaces for a single vehicle and for two, three, four vehicles and up. Then configure their arrangement to be intermingled and best utilize the available space. All of the pull-through spaces don’t have to be together, the single sites don’t have to be together, etc.
Grade. The engineers often want more grade than is necessary to drain the site. Design for the customers, not for the engineers. From a camper’s perspective, there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to level up in a camp spur. RV refrigerators need to be close to level, but just as important the people want to be level. Whether riders are in a tent or RV, it is not comfortable spending the weekend off-camber.
If the spur slopes down at a 5 percent grade, a vehicle with a 200-inch wheelbase would need to raise the rear axle 10 inches. Few RVs can do that safely, and all RV manufacturers warn owners to never lift the front or rear tires off the ground since the vehicle could roll. Even on a gravel surface, water will run with a 1 to 2 percent grade.
Turning Radius. Two factors affect how sharp a curve is and how drivable it is: the curve radius and the length of the curve. The smaller the radius and the longer the curve, the sharper the curve will be. On any curve, the rear wheels of a vehicle do not follow the same path as the front wheels. The longer the vehicle (and trailer), the wider the offset between the front wheel track and the rear wheel track. This is compounded by the sharpness of the curve. Road designers compensate for this off-tracking by adding curve widening to the inside of the curve. This added lane width can be considerable (up to 20 feet), but in an effort to maintain a natural setting, road widths and clearing widths are often minimized in recreation sites. If sharp curves are designed into an OHV facility, curve widening must be factored into the road width. Consult the agency road design guidelines or AASHTO Green Book guidelines.
During facility construction, a good way to test the design is with a belly dump truck. If it can’t negotiate the turns or the pull-through spaces or if it scrapes trees horizontally or vertically, fix the design.
Vertical Clearance. It can be very disconcerting to drive through a campground road, hear limbs scrape the roof of a vehicle, and wonder if a there will be damage to a clearance light, roof vent, an air conditioner unit, TV antenna, satellite dish, or the roof itself. A standard pruning height has been 14 feet, but many motorhomes are 12 feet high and fifth wheels can be 13.5 feet high. If the wind is blowing or the limbs are wet, or full of cones, a 14-foot height is not sufficient. A 15- to 16-foot pruning height is recommended.
Maintenance personnel need to be looking up when patrolling campgrounds. Broken limbs or de-barked limbs are clear indications of inadequate clearance.
Lateral Clearance. Clearing width can become a factor on both roads and camp spurs. If curve widening has not been factored into the design, lateral clearance is an issue because the trailer is going to be off the road and scraping trees. With motorhomes and big trucks, the front wheels can be several feet behind the front corner; therefore, on a sharp curve, the front wheels could be on the road, but the front of the vehicle could be off the road. Without adequate lateral clearance, this could prevent a large vehicle from negotiating a sharp curve.
On camp spurs, there needs to be enough lateral clearance for awnings, slideouts, and slideout awnings. Storage bay doors can be 52 inches wide and extend beyond the slideouts. The total clear space required for a big rig with the patio awning out can be 22 to 25 feet.
Clearance in the back of the spur is important also. Most RVs have a rear overhang from the back axle to the rear of the vehicle. If trees are cleared and bollards or barriers are kept low enough, a long vehicle can fit into a fairly short site.
Back-in Spurs. Spurs utilize space more efficiently than pull-through sites, but big rig drivers will almost always choose a pull-through just to avoid backing up. Back-in spurs usually afford more privacy and in some ways more security because there is only one access point. The key to back-in spurs is their angle to the road. The smaller the angle, the easier the spur is to back in to. The spur angle should not exceed 60 degrees unless the road is very wide or there is another unoccupied site directly across from it. The reason for this is that without extra width, there is inadequate space for the front of the tow vehicle to swing out so the trailer can be straightened.
Given a choice, drivers of tow vehicles will choose a back-in spur on their left over one on their right. Why? Because the driver has a clear and close view of his mirror and a good line of sight down the tow vehicle and trailer, which makes backing up easier. Mirrors on the right are farther away and are often wide-angle, which makes the images smaller and harder to see, and harder to judge distances.
Pull-through Spaces. The obvious advantage of a pull-through is that it eliminates backing in to a sometimes awkward spur. There are some vehicle combinations that cannot be backed up without unhooking, so those vehicle drivers will almost always choose a pull-through over a back-in.
A pull-through space can be designed for a single vehicle and trailer combination, the center can be widened out to accommodate two vehicles, or widened and lengthened to hold four vehicle combinations. Since pull-through spaces take up more space than spurs, designing them as mini-group sites can help make more efficient use of that space.
To accommodate big rigs, pull-through spaces need to flow well, so they’re best designed as straight or on a long shallow curve. If the curve is too tight, a big rig with a trailer cannot pull in or pull out.
Objects Hidden from View. These are the bollards or boulders that designers place on the corners or edges of the site for enhanced aesthetics and confinement of the use. Unfortunately, when backing a trailer into a site, the drivers’ eyes are focused on where the trailer is going, not on where the front of the tow vehicle is going. These objects become obstacles that are a hazard and are cursed by customers. Another factor is that the higher the drivers sit, the less visibility they have of the ground adjacent to their vehicles. Any objects placed in those locations are actually placed in the drivers’ blind spots. Objects like this need to be either set back out of harm’s way or be tall enough to be clearly visible by the drivers.
Group Sites and Areas. Having a group site(s) or large open area to circle the wagons is definitely an amenity that large families or groups will utilize. These can have utility hookups, but most groups can easily dry camp for a long weekend and would rather camp together than have utility hookups. Why do people circle the wagons? Camaraderie and just as in the old days: security; all of the OHVs, tools, and kids’ toys will be inside the circle.
Site Protection. A concern with any developed or dispersed camp is limiting the spread of the site and protecting vegetation. People like to camp under the trees, but doing so can damage root systems, compact the soil, and affect water absorption. Barriers are often used to confine and control the use.
The Kiddie Effect. OHV riding and camping is a family activity and it’s always great to see families having fun together. The older kids can usually go ride with their parents on the trails, but where do the younger kids ride or learn to ride? Most often, they will end up riding around the camp or through the campground. They will ride all day long until they run out of energy or fuel. This constant noise and dust can be annoying to other campers but it can also present some safety concerns.
Left to their own devices, unsupervised and uneducated kids can do a lot of unintentional damage. They’re looking for fun and can find that by riding a closed trail, a closed area, or by creating a trail between campsites.
In the vicinity of most dispersed kiddie-created camps that are regularly used by families, a kiddie-created track will soon develop. The kids need a place to ride, but these contribute to the spread of dispersed camps and impacts to vegetation and soils.
Designers can manage the kiddie effect issue by incorporating tot lots, kiddie tracks, and youth training areas as part of their OHV facility design. Like play areas, these give the kids (and their parents) a designated, managed place for that activity. These facilities get the kids off the roads and away from the intimidation of older riders and bigger machines. Signing these areas as tot lots, kiddie tracks, or learner loops helps to keep older kids and pit squids out of the area. Riders don’t get any points for showing off in a tot lot.
Areas to develop skills should be associated with OHV trailheads, staging areas, and campgrounds. They help manage the use by providing a designated place for training, riding, and skill development. They also extend the recreation activity time because they provide activities other than just trail riding. These should be sited quite close to the trailhead or campground, but be located to minimize noise and dust intrusion to other recreationists.
Skill development areas include learner loops, kiddie tracks, tot lots, youth training areas, and technical terrain courses. All except learner loops provide spectator activities where riders and their families or groups can participate or watch.
Learner Loops. A learner loop is a one-way training trail that teaches throttle, clutch, brake, and balance control. To accomplish that, these are often tight, technical, low-speed trails. In theory, they should prepare the riders to negotiate whatever can be expected on the trail system. If the trails have rocks and logs, the learner loop should have rocks and logs. If the area doesn’t have those features, they can be imported. If the main trail has switchbacks, the learner loop should have a switchback if the terrain allows. If there are single- and double-track trails, there should be single- and double-track learner loops.
A learner loop isn’t just for kids; it’s for anyone who needs to develop his or her riding skills. They can be any length, but many are one-fourth to one-half mile long. These loops are dense so they can fit into a small area. If they are long enough, they can also serve as a warm-up loop.
A learner loop can also be designed as a play loop. It can be open and flowing or tight and technical, but the curves are usually highly superelevated to produce a high fun factor. Where possible, designers should play with the landscape to produce a roller-coaster ride effect. These teach skills, but the high fun factor can keep kids occupied for a long period of time.
Kiddie Tracks. These are usually a small oval track, fully enclosed with barriers or fencing, with a controlled access point. They are usually signed to limit the age and vehicle displacement (cc). The track usually has some mounds of dirt of varying heights or other obstacles, with easy-outs, to ride over. Some have shaded picnic tables or bleachers so parents can watch their kids play on the track. Size depends on available space, but a nicely sized track can fit on one-half acre.
Designers should keep the kiddie issue around dispersed camps in mind and manage the impacts by selecting a couple of the high-use sites and building a small kiddie track at them. The kiddie tracks should be shown on the map so families with small kids can find them. All undesignated tracks should be closed off and use directed to the designated sites.
Tot Lots. Tot lots are designed for the little kids just getting started. They are a simple oval track or may have a few easy curves. They are flat with no superelevation and no mounds so that riders on small 50cc bikes with training wheels can easily navigate them. They are fully enclosed with a single access point and are signed to restrict engine displacement. Depending on soil type, a tot lot may need to be hardened since soft soils are difficult to ride with small tires and small engines, or by kids on their first ride.
A tot lot can be any size depending on available space, but 50 x 100 feet is more than enough. They don’t need to be very big because the machines and riders are so small. Also, a small track makes it easier for the parents to supervise and run alongside their youngster.
Youth Training Areas. Any of the previous areas can be called a youth training area (YTA) or be part of a larger training area. A YTA usually provides a range of activities to accommodate a wider range of ages and skill levels. Some have a tot lot; kiddie track; an ASI or MSF training area; a learner loop; and an obstacle area with mounds, rocks, logs, or other natural or manufactured features. All of this can be provided in less than 2 acres. They are fenced, signed, and have restricted access. Picnic tables in the shade give parents a place to watch their kids.
Technical Terrain Courses. A formal technical terrain course is called an endurocross track. It is a competitive event track that is a spectator activity like MX, rock crawl, and trials. However, they can also be designed and used for casual recreation. These are technically challenging so they provide a much higher level of skill training than the other facilities above, but they are fun and definitely extend recreation activity time. One nice thing about these areas is that they can occupy almost any size or shape land parcel since a lot of obstacles can be positioned into a very small space.
Manufacturing challenge features are what a technical terrain course is all about, using whatever materials are available and creatively arranging them into a fun and challenging course. Materials can be rocks, logs, stumps, tires, culverts, concrete chunks; anything that can be ridden over and be durable. Unless obstacles are intended to move to increase difficulty, like a loose log run, features must be designed to be anchored or immobile. Like everything else, having a variety of features increases the challenge and fun.
Adding skill development areas can take little space, but they add tremendous value to a trail system. However, like the trail system, the development areas need to be designed correctly during the planning stage, built with quality materials, and have regular maintenance.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter:
A plan and a design have been created with care. With construction, the vision becomes a reality. For the designers, after days, weeks, or months of scouting and flagging, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing the flagline become a trail and to finally ride it. It is a WOW feeling and hopefully a WOW experience. Construction is an anticipated time and one of excitement. Everyone on the project team becomes rejuvenated with the smell of freshly turned dirt, the clanging of tools, and the sound of equipment as a trail becomes inscribed on the landscape.
This is a great moment in creating a great trail, but what happens after that moment may not be so great. There can be pitfalls; and when the vision in the project team’s mind doesn’t match the product on the ground, there are problems. Keeping construction flowing smoothly and avoiding potential problems starts before the dirt is turned in a process called preconstruction.
Certainly one of the challenges throughout the continuum is maintaining a consistent vision: passing the torch from one component to the next. The obvious way to meet this challenge is to reduce the number of times the torch gets passed. Having the designers sit on the planning team, design the trails, and then either perform or oversee the construction can help provide that needed consistency. Though ideal, this isn’t always possible, so another way to pass on the vision is to replicate it on paper. In preconstruction, maps, drawings, and specifications are written and assembled so that someone potentially unfamiliar with the project and the project area can look at the material and build the desired product on the ground. The process of transferring the vision is not an easy one, so investing time in developing a comprehensive construction packet can facilitate a smooth and complete flow of information and result in a great trail on the ground.
One of the first tasks is to determine how the trails will be constructed, or even if they will be constructed. Whether a trail will be constructed by hand or machine-built has usually already been determined in the design and outlined in the final TMO.
Pros of Riding a Trail In
Cons (or Potential Risks) of Riding a Trail In
It’s important to assess the benefits and the risks. If the risks are low, perhaps riding the trail in is a viable option, but it should be the exception, not the rule. An alternative could be to construct the portions of the trail that need tight construction control and have higher risks and ride in those portions that need less control and have lower risks, but even with this, the treads will be inconsistent and the flow will be inconsistent. Is this the product the team had envisioned?
The force account method is when the agency performs the work with its own personnel and equipment. The agency must have skilled personnel and enough of them to efficiently perform the work. The other key ingredient is having the proper size and types of equipment to accomplish the construction tasks.
With the volunteers and groups method, often, a local club or organization wants to take on the construction of the project. Volunteer labor is often used as match dollars in grants, and many grantors require or will score an application higher if there is a volunteer component. There are also agencies and associations (like the Student Conservation Association) that have organized trail crews available for hire. With both of these, having skilled personnel, experienced supervision, and the proper equipment is essential.
The contract method is the most common option. A solicitation is prepared to hire a contractor to perform all or most of the work.
A hybrid contract is where the vendor is required to utilize and train volunteers to accomplish portions of the work. Though maybe not the most efficient, this method is popular because local enthusiasts receive necessary trail training that they can use later on in maintenance or implementation of another project. As with the volunteers and groups method, the volunteer component provides contributed funding, or match dollars, for grants.
The construction method selected will determine the scope and complexity of the documents needed for the preconstruction packet. One of the documents that forms the foundation for all of the other preconstruction data is the trail management objective (TMO). Drafted after developing the concept plan and finalized after location and design, the TMO provides key information that triggers guidelines and parameters for design, construction, and maintenance. The TMO guides whether a rock gets taken out for a smooth tread or left as a technical feature. The TMO must be treated as a guideline and adjusted for regional and actual site conditions (there are too many variables with any trail to have a one-size-fits-all set of parameters). Construction drawings and specifications are then drafted to convey the desired output to whoever is performing the work.
A typical packet includes the following.
If the packet is complete and well written, the vision can be adequately transferred to the contractor, but that doesn’t always happen.
“Construction” means moving dirt and includes new trail construction, existing trail reconstruction, or trail relocation. Regardless of who does the construction, the nine-step process is, or should be, the same.
1. Mobilization. This is the movement of personnel, equipment, and materials to the job site. In remote areas, this can involve the establishment of base camps. Depending on the site location and complexity of the work, mobilization can be a substantial and costly task.
2. Clearing. This is the cutting of trees and heavy brush within the trail corridor (normally top of the cut to toe of the fill).
Here are some points regarding clearing:
3. Grubbing. This is the removal of stumps and their roots.
4. Slash disposal. This entails the removal of all woody material from within the trail corridor, and it can be performed by hand or machine or both.
Here are some thoughts regarding slash disposal
5. Pioneering. The next step is to rough in a tread or create a bench for the equipment to work on.
6. Structures. Unless there is other access, work on non-tread structures like bridges, culverts, and retaining walls as soon as there is adequate access to get materials, personnel, and equipment into the site. Depending on the terrain, this could start as soon as the pioneering is completed. Other structures like rolling dips, ditches, and sumps occur during excavation and embankment since excavated structures are usually used as a source of borrow material to help raise the grade of the trail tread.
Key points regarding structures are:
7. Excavation and embankment. This is the process of establishing the grade and the desired trail prism. Cuts are excavated and fills or embankments are constructed.
Here are some considerations for excavation and embankment
8. Finish grading. Often referred to as the last pass, this is the final shaping and compacting of the trail tread and any related tread structures. This work must be consistent with the TMO and trail log.
9. Finish work. This is all of the work that “makes it look pretty.”
Finish work includes:
A new trail always looks rough and wide for the first year after construction. There has often been a lot of disturbance and it takes time for those impacts to heal. Once vegetation starts to re-establish and the unused portions of the trail tread and site get covered with forest litter, the trail will quickly appear to be narrower and more natural. However, this will only occur if the trail has been located, designed, and constructed properly.
Note: Though the process is the same for most trails, the sequencing of the process may not be the same due to the vegetation, topography, or complexity of the project. On many machine-built trails, grubbing, slash disposal, and pioneering occur simultaneously.
No matter how the work is performed, there is a need for some level of construction oversight and project management. The agency usually provides this management, and the designers help to carry the project vision through construction. This work can also be outsourced to a contractor. Construction management includes project coordination, compliance inspection, documentation and reporting, information sharing, recognizing and avoiding pitfalls, and recognizing the need for change.
Project coordination. This can involve a multitude of tasks, including ensuring that materials and supplies are ordered and delivered so that the work can proceed in a timely fashion; sequencing the work so it flows smoothly and logically; scheduling, coordinating, and overseeing volunteer work parties or other trail crew work; ensuring that any required permits are secured; scheduling any required resource surveys; ensuring conformance with any seasonal work restrictions; meeting with stakeholders to discuss issues or concerns; ensuring that construction controls are in place or replacing any that are missing or damaged; renting or repairing equipment; and purchasing any necessary tools or supplies that are needed by the work crews.
Compliance inspection. Regular inspections help keep the projects running smoothly.
Documentation and reporting. There is a saying “If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen”. Document the progress and quality of the work, preferably on a daily basis. Take photographs. There can never be enough photos. It may be several months later before the team discovers that it needed documentation regarding events on a particular day. Ensure that volunteer records or records of any other personnel, materials, or equipment that is used as match for grants are kept.
Information sharing. Everyone likes to be in the know, and some parties need to know what is happening with the project. Use photos to prepare regular project updates for management, advisory committees, grantors, stakeholders, or the media. Photos are a great tool to document the progress of the project, increase project awareness, and increase political and public support for the project or agency.
Recognizing and avoiding pitfalls. Experienced trail project managers knows how the work should be performed and when it should be performed. When something is out of sync or is heading in the wrong direction, taking immediate action to discover the cause can avert downtime, accidents, or other delays in the work progress or quality.
Trail construction is fun and rewarding because the team can see the trail take shape on the ground, but it can also have inherent hazards and risks. It is important to take appropriate action to minimize those hazards and mitigate the risks. This is especially important for equipment operations. Workers need to be trained in how to safely approach and how far to stay back from working equipment.
There are times when equipment can be working in precarious locations. Some agencies require spotters or equipment safety personnel to be on site any time the equipment is working, but certainly when the risk is high, a spotter should be on site as should the project manager.
The project managers also need to be aware of the resource concerns and values in the project area and to take appropriate action when those are encountered. It is not uncommon to suddenly see an unusual population of plants; discover a TES nest or den; or unearth a bone, tooth, or arrowhead. Someone needs to be watchful in these situations because there are often legal protection requirements and what happens next can delay or stop the project altogether. Being forthright about any discoveries can build trust and credibility with resource specialists.
Recognizing the need for change. Implementation is the last chance to get it right. In spite of all of the concerted efforts in planning, design, and preconstruction, sometimes the intent just doesn’t fit the ground as anticipated. The project managers need to be on the alert for these situations so changes can be made early before large amounts of time, money, or materials are invested.
Pitfalls for construction can be:
There is a perception that since trails have a small footprint, they are simple: anyone can design one and anyone can build one. That misconception has resulted in poor riding experiences, erosion, visual scars, resource impacts, and ultimately closures. Though motorized vehicle riders are often blamed for these impacts, it was the poor location, design, and construction that created them. With a closure, riders lose recreation opportunities that often are not replaced. What isn’t often recognized is that a closure represents a failure by the agency to effectively provide for and manage the use. One of the purposes of this book is to help agencies avoid that situation by giving them the tools to create great trails, either by building new ones or fixing old ones. A great trail is a success story. It’s a win-win for the environment, the agency, and the riders. Agencies can achieve that success only by the effective and equal implementation of the three keys to success: provide for the riders’ needs, design for sustainability, and develop an effective Operations and Maintenance program.
A trail is most susceptible to the forces of compaction, displacement, and erosion during the first year after construction. Protect the investment. Consider closing the trail immediately after construction and let it sit over the winter or whenever the wet season occurs. Sometimes demand and political pressures are so high that this option is not practical, so consider closing the trail until there have been a couple of wet weather events. These options are especially important if the trail has been constructed during the dry season and the tread and embankments are unconsolidated. The weather will help provide natural compaction and cohesion.
If possible, the first use on a trail should be light and low impact so displacement is minimized and compaction can occur slowly and evenly over the whole tread surface. Severe impacts can occur if an event is scheduled during that first year. With most soil types, a newly constructed trail cannot sustain a high volume of use in a short period of time.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter:
Constructing an OHV project often involves natural surface roads. Almost every OHV trail project includes these roads to some degree, whether it’s using natural surface roads as trails or converting abandoned roads to trails. There are benefits and risks to both, but often it is easier from an environmental analysis standpoint to re-purpose an existing impact rather than create a new one.
Effective closure and rehabilitation techniques are essential to controlling and directing the use and providing resource protection. They are essential tasks when converting natural surface roads to trails. They also allow the managers to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program, which can reap significant political rewards that may garner support for the project, agency, and manager.
A road conversion is not a paper exercise. It is all too common for managers to take a natural surface road, delete it from the road inventory, add it to the trail inventory, put up a sign, and call it a new trail. This is really the first step, but it does nothing to address the inherent issues with roads nor does it address the lack in quality of the recreation experience. Not dealing with those issues will likely result in resource impacts and management problems if not management failure. The second step is to physically transform the road corridor into a natural-looking trail corridor with a fun, flowing trail.
To make a successful conversion:
Because they are existing infrastructure, there is a temptation to use snowmobile trails as multi-season trails. There are pros and cons to using snowmobile routes and trails that the managers must evaluate to make an informed decision.
Routes. Many snowmobile trails utilize existing roads. If that is the case, then the normal road risks need to be considered: too flat, too straight, too fast, too boring, poor drainage, and large tread watersheds. Because most snowmobile trails are groomed, the ability to convert a snowmobile trail to an OHV trail is normally limited. Snowmobile groomers are not able to make as sharp or tight turns as an OHV. In areas with marginal snow depths, the groomers will not lay down a trail that will cover up superelevated turns or other obstacles in the OHV trail.
Trails. If the snowmobile trail is an actual trail and not a route, then there is another set of considerations:
If the decision is to use a groomed snowmobile trail, then managers and designers can incorporate the same techniques described for natural surface road to trail conversions, but on a conservative scale. Whatever is done must not hinder grooming operations, including OHV trail signing. If winter signing is not applicable to summer use, then those signs should be covered or replaced with multi-use signs or changed to fit the season.
There are political benefits of effective trail closure and rehabilitation. Past impacts need to be rectified to ensure future use. Although riders tend to see closure as a negative - a loss of riding opportunity whether it was good or bad - closures are usually a necessity for effective OHV management. The goal for an effective closure is to plan it and implement it so it changes from a lose-win to a win-win scenario.
Below are the nine steps to success. Not all of these steps have to be implemented, but the chances of success will increase with an increase in the number of steps taken.
1. Provide an alternate route. Before starting closure and rehabilitation work, it is essential that the existing use is redirected. The best way to accomplish that is by:
The key point is to not close a trail before opening another route and to try to give riders something more than they lost. When riders realize that they can still get to where they want to go or have a new higher quality opportunity, compliance with the closure will significantly increase.
2. Manage the riders’ eyes. If managers don’t want the riders to go somewhere, avoid focusing their eyes on that location. This is especially important for closures and rehabilitation. Focus the riders’ eyes away from the corridor to be closed so the closure will be more effective.
3. Restore natural drainage patterns. If the trail to be closed is a fall line trail, water will run down it and not in the natural drainageways. Install lead-off ditches to intercept this water and direct it back into the natural drainage course.
4. Install erosion control. Controlling water volume and velocity is essential to effective closure and rehabilitation. Erosion control structures need to be installed to heal the impacts of past erosion and reduce the potential for future erosion.
Here are some considerations for erosion control methods:
5. Rip or scarify. Scarifying is scratching the surface and ripping is gouging the soil 12 to 18 inches deep. The goal is to break up the compacted soil to make it a good seedbed and to increase the soil’s capacity to absorb water. Whether to rip or scarify depends on the soil type and depth of compaction. Whichever method is used, it is best to rip in a sinuous line rather than a straight line. This is accomplished by alternately locking one track and then the other. The “S” pattern improves the aesthetics of the product, loosens the soil better, produces smaller clumps of soil, reduces the potential flow of water down the ruts, and often drags in vegetation and debris from the sides of the road or trail.
6. Disguise the corridor. This involves dragging in rocks, brush, stumps, logs, and clumps of vegetation to break up the line of the old corridor and visually disguise it. At a minimum, this is done as far as the eye can see at the termini of the closure. But if the trail can be seen from other vantage points, then the whole length of the closure needs to be treated. As in road conversions, an excavator is a good tool to quickly accomplish this work. Don’t go overboard with falling trees or piling brush to block the corridor. The goal is to make the corridor look natural and a mass of jackstrawed trees can actually draw attention to the corridor. That being said, it can be difficult to close and disguise a corridor that has been used traditionally by wildlife or livestock. In these cases, fencing or heavier debris placement is needed to discourage use.
Depending on the tree species and size (juniper works well), consider creating living barriers by making a backcut only and carefully pushing the tree over so it remains attached to the stump. The tree will stay green and provide more of a visual barrier to disguise the corridor, and a tree that is attached to the stump is much harder to move out of the way.
7. Re-establish vegetation. In most places, this is best done in the fall so the seed can germinate with the warmth and moisture of the spring; however, it is also best to seed or replace forest duff immediately after the ripping or scarifying. Some soils can form a crust that can inhibit the penetration of the seed into the soil and reduce germination success. Transplanting clumps of vegetation with the roots intact can provide an instant visual barrier that will last.
In some regions, seed doesn’t take well and there can often be better success by transplanting native vegetation. This can be labor-intensive and expensive, but it can also make a great volunteer project.
Fires can be devastating, but their heat releases seeds that have been buried dormant in the soil for years. That’s why burned areas are so green the following spring. Fire can be a good tool to establish vegetation in difficult areas and to help hide visual scars on open slopes.
Adding straw or other mulch on top of the seed helps protect the seed from displacement during weather events and fosters germination by providing a cooler and wetter microclimate.
8. Install signing and barriers. Sometimes just the disguising will be enough to deter use, but signing and barriers are often needed for a site that is highly visible or has had a high level of traditional use. Sometimes a sign can be installed first and if that doesn’t work, then back it up with a barrier. A good sign explains the closure, the reasoning for the closure, and redirects the riders to the new routes
Here are some thoughts regarding signing and barriers:
9. Utilize the 4Es. Effective application of the 4Es is essential to the success of any closure effort.
Some key points are:
Expect setbacks, but use the 4Es to determine the cause and beef up the engineering, education, or enforcement to correct them.
Here are some of the elements discussed in this chapter: