Elevate Your Trail

an advocacy initiative

“The goal is to ensure that our outdoor environments are protected and preserved, while at the same time making it possible for [all] to experience.”

Guidelines and Best Practices for the Design, Construction, and Maintenance of Sustainable Trails

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Elevate your trailTo achieve this goal, park managers and planners need to increase visitation to the park. Once the visitors are in the park they experience all the draws. They can hike, explore, and enjoy the beauty that each park has to offer.

However, that means increased stress on sensitive areas, which must be managed appropriately. Whether designing parks or trying to increase the number of visitors it is important to consider the following things…

1. Controlling foot traffic.

It is essential that foot traffic be controlled and restricted in certain areas. Many parks have foliage in sensitive areas. Trails enable the park coordinators to keep people away from these sensitive areas and protect the environment. An additional way to control foot traffic and reduce the environmental damage is by using a boardwalk. Since boardwalks are above ground, they allow for exploration of these sensitive areas without continued damage or erosion of the environment. Foot traffic can be very harmful but by elevating the trail, most of that damage is eliminated.

2. Foot traffic causes erosion and ground compaction.

Keeping in the theme of protecting the environment, boardwalks are great for reducing ground erosion and compaction. These are two of the biggest issues when it comes to building a trail. It is a common misconception that this is unavoidable. That being said, it does happen in parks all over the world. According to a study done by the Department of Leisure Tourism, trails are impacted not only by nature, but by heavy foot traffic as well. Over time the trail will widen and more vegetation will be destroyed. One of the best ways to combat this is by elevating the trail. Since people are not walking directly on the ground they are not wearing it down. Boardwalks allow for observation and interaction with the nature without harming it.

3. Ground erosion and compaction create unnatural rainwater run-off.

One of the biggest issues with any trail is how it interrupts natural water flow. Not only is this damaging to the environment but it is also detrimental to the trail. Trails force water to reroute and this can lead to collection in lower areas. This also pertains to snow in the winter. This issue often leads to the installation of runoff mechanisms such as culverts or drainage lenses. It can be difficult to work around the natural barriers to a trail. However, since boardwalks are elevated, they allow the nature that is below to remain largely un-touched and safe from disruption. Boardwalks do not interrupt the natural drainage of water and are less harmful to the environment.

In conclusion, when building a trail it is important to control foot traffic, monitor the effects of the foot traffic, and make sure the ground does not erode, compact, or interrupt natural rainwater drainage. The most effective way to deal with these issues is to put them to rest right away by installing a boardwalk. Boardwalks eliminate these issues and help protect the environment for generations to come. 

“When you construct or reroute a trail, you are putting a structure on the landscape that will be there, in good or bad condition, for 100 years or more in most places. So why not do it right?”

-American Trails