Concrete, Asphalt, Gravel

• Reduce the quality to build the project within budget.

The large multi-use recreation trails have become quite popular among residents. Heavier use levels and higher quality expectations have resulted in the need to improve both trail quality and year-round usability. The early days of trail development were based on lower expectations for trail quality, and the use of gravel was the accepted norm.

As the trail system has grown, it is now apparent that the annual maintenance budget to repair gravel trails is not keeping up with the growth of the trail system. The end result has been the development of a new standard that incorporates the benefits of concrete for durability and year-round use with a gravel side path for runners. This new standard is more costly to build, but its benefits far outweigh the cost difference over time.

Choosing the high standard to add quality and reduce maintenance costs sounds like an easy decision, but it’s obvious that sacrifices are generally required to make this change. Sometimes the change to a higher standard will not be possible, but it’s still important to recognize the real costs associated with each design decision. This information will help establish more accurate budget figures for maintenance, and also shed light on the long-term costs associated with each project.

The popularity and continued growth of municipal trail systems has required cities to carefully evaluate how they choose to meet this demand. The result of this decision-making process will have a lasting impact–not only the quality of the experience for users–but also the future costs associated with each trail. Assuring that the maintenance costs are reasonable will provide lasting benefits to municipalities as they struggle to be cost-effective in meeting demand.

Steve Saitta is the planning and development superintendent for the city of Columbia, Missouri’s parks and recreation department. He can be reached via e-mail at

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