By Monica Simons
Monica Simons is the Online Marketing Manager at Bury+Partners, a leader in the engineering design industry. Monica loves writing about tips and advice on landscape architecture and land use planning design, and showcasing the latest completed design from Bury+Partners.
Whether it’s in the city or the great outdoors, good trails and biking facilities don’t just happen. Sustainable planning and ongoing management are major considerations, but so are trails that are fun and useful. Designers and engineers have to see a trail as something more than a path that takes you from point A to point B and make sure that they meet a number of requirements.
A fully sustainable trail system is possible in both urban and forested areas. Designers have to focus on the entire system, address the unique challenges of the area, and understand the long-term impacts that might result. Whether building a trail for a commute or as some form of recreational initiative, any developments have to be guided by a plan that will prevent erosion, use the natural contours of the land, and manage the riders that use the trail. All of these factors can be addressed by careful design without limiting any of the fun of getting out and riding.
When creating new recreational opportunities, accessibility is a big concern. Designers need to create fun areas that protect natural resources while still remaining open to all people, even if they have disabilities. This applies to walking, hiking, and biking trails, and it must be considered from the initial phases of the design.
They say that there are no shades of accessibility. The facilities are either accessible to all people, or they are not. Why does this matter? Census numbers indicate that 1 in 5 Americans is considered disabled—is significantly limited in one or more life activities. More than that, though, by the year 2030 there will be more than 110 million people above the age of 55, suggesting that there will be more people with impairments to their activity level.
Ideally, biking and hiking trails, and all the related facilities, should be based on the principles of universal design, making them accessible to as many people as possible.
What Requires Consideration
There are a lot of factors that must be considered when designers begin work on new trails or upgrading old paths. These trails could impact vegetation, soil compaction, erosion, water quality, and wildlife, just to name a few. The plan for a new trail has to address all these issues in very specific way.
The first, and best, way to protect the environment from erosion is to design trails that actually provide the experience bikers are looking for. This will automatically minimize the desire to go off trail where the most damage to soil and vegetation can take place. This is also why an active maintenance program is important, because if large rocks and fallen trees are disrupting the trail, bikers and hikers tend to find their own.
We have to locate the trails as far from rare plants and animals as possible, and especially habitats that are important for things like mating or birthing (although this may be a seasonal thing, so it may just be a matter of restricting access during those times). The location of the trail should also, if possible, be on dry, cohesive soils because they compact much better and are more resistant to erosion by displacement, wind, and water.
Building the Best Trails
Erosion and other environmental degradation can be avoided with careful planning, and the resulting trails can still provide all the fun and usefulness we expect. Concerns over the amount of use are certainly valid, but research suggests that the trail design and management are much larger factors in the overall results. By keeping sustainability and accessibility in mind, these trails can provide decades of use with minimal environmental impact.