Blazing A Trail

Creating an environmentally friendly off-road vehicle (ORV) or all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s possible to develop one with minimal impact if a few basic rules are followed. “You have to look at everything, including engineering, education, enforcement and evaluation of the trail system and users,” says Tom Crimmins, a trails consultant based in Hidden Lake, Idaho, who provides ORV trail training and planning services in cooperation with National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, and is the author of Management Guidelines for OHV Recreation.

“Usually an ATV trail is created because land managers are either trying to meet the demand for one, or they are trying to create a legal place to ride because people are illegally riding in other areas,” says Troy Scott Parker, Principal of Natureshape LLC and author of Natural Surface Trails By Design.

Designed For Success

Before blazing a trail, determine its overall purpose, such as providing access to remote camping, fishing or wildlife viewing areas. A well-designed trail also will include interpretation and unique vistas, as well as family and challenge-riding opportunities.

The more recreational opportunities that are provided, the greater the likelihood visitors will partake in these activities. The alternative is to let visitors create their own version of fun, which can lead to enforcement headaches and property damage.

“Decide what you have to offer and what niche you’ll want to fill,” says Crimmins. “This will go a long way into building a trail that is sustainable while providing riders with an experience they enjoy.”

“Design is the most important part,” says Parker. “If the trail isn’t designed correctly, there is no end to the grief.” First determine if the trail is multi-use and if so, whether the users are individuals, families or hunters. Will they be using ATVs, dirt bikes or four-wheel drive vehicles? Will horses and hikers also have access to the trail?

Once the focus has been determined, then you can begin designing the trail to work with the topography and the landscape. The length of the trail can be substantial, but most locations do not have that luxury, and need to consider the location of the trail to other facilities as well as neighboring communities, to assure there is an ample noise-buffer zone.

Trails can range from easy, family-friendly affairs, to extreme challenge areas with obstacle courses like logs, boulders and deep mud. Generally, most users are families that want to have a safe place to ride and enjoy the beauty and solitude of the outdoors. “You have to know who your users are going to be because if you don’t, you won’t please anyone,” says Parker.

Enforcement And Peer Pressure

“The more you provide activities that you want for your visitors, the less enforcement you’ll need,” says Crimmins. “Additionally, having a presence on-site indicates to users that the land managers care enough to be out there, and will take care of any problems. This simple action will help prevent a lot of problems from even occurring.”

Post the rules and regulations in a visible and high-traffic area. In well-designed areas, riders also will generate a peer-pressure dynamic to follow the rules.

Cut The Water Trail Short

Water mitigation also needs to be considered in trail design. “You must limit how much water comes onto the trail,” says Parker. “You aren’t trying to control erosion, but limit its viability.”

This can be achieved by shortening the distance it takes for the water to enter and exit the trail. For instance, a trail designed in an up-and-down, rollercoaster-fashion mitigates the amount of water damage.

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