Trail Maintenance

Signage is a good way to provide information, directions, or regulations.

Photo Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

install signage to help manage usage and reduce maintenance, as well as provide information, directions, or regulations, but signs are not always the answer.

“Signage can carry its own liability,” Favro says. “If you have a real obvious safety issue, you should probably sign it. But users must assume certain risk when they use a trail, and if they don’t choose to take that risk, they probably shouldn’t use that particular trail.”

Favro notes that many states have enacted legislation that relieves landowners of some responsibility, and gives local organizations the ability to enact policies as to how to manage the liability.

“Liability and hazards are always a challenge,” says Young, who oversees many miles of rugged trails along streams and creeks. “The balance of user responsibility and SCT providing safe yet natural trails requires multiple efforts. In our experience, hikers are invested in the trails and tend to take care of small issues, such as branches or limbs, and regular users notify us if they see something that needs more attention.”

Young notes that SCT staff and volunteers periodically monitor trails for hazards and, when necessary, arborists or trail consultants are brought in to evaluate specific conditions. “We cannot foresee what nature may do, but with logical steps, the hope is to avoid any liability issues,” she notes.

Meanwhile, Favro maintains that proper construction and placement of trails will minimize liability.

“There are many things you can do in constructing a trail to reduce liability … don’t go right at the edge of a cliff, don’t go near a dangerous river, and plan crossings at safe areas,” he emphasizes.

Mixed Use Or Designated Trails

Another conundrum for trail managers is the challenge of multi-use trails, where more than one category of user is on the trail at the same time, for example, a hiking trail that mountain bikers want to use—and maybe horse riders as well.

“Multi-use trails can be done, but on heavily used trails where you have mixed use, you probably should consider not doing it,” says Favro, who adds that encouraging mixed use can lead to conflicts.

“There are certain things you can do in constructing multi-use trails to de-conflict opposing use,” he instructs. “For example, on a mixed bike and hiking trail, open up visibility, don’t have sharp turns, or build in natural speed bumps to slow down bike speed at key points, but still provide the challenge that mountain bikers are looking for.”

Multi-use trails can be practical and safe in appropriate locations with adequate user education, but as Young points out, not all rugged or natural trails are conducive to multi-use. “I feel that variables, such as terrain, number of users, education of users, and the overall goal of the trail are important considerations in user safety,” she explains. “Sometimes it is best to have designated trails. But either way, user education is vital to a safe, enjoyable experience.”

Finding Support

Funding for proper trail maintenance is perplexing at any time, but recent history has proven even more challenging.

“In the past five or six years, there has definitely been an impact on funding streams for trails,” Favro notes. “When funding gets tight, it’s important that trail managers and landowners get selective with their expenditures, determine what their users need, and direct their funding to the priorities.”

Building a dependable volunteer workforce can also benefit maintenance upkeep and reduce costs. “Lots of people like to do volunteer trail work, but it’s not free—you have to train them, supervise them, give them the tools and logistic support they need, and that all costs money,” Favro cautions. “You also have to recognize that you may not get the same quantity or quality of work you’d get with a paid, trained staff. It’s just part of doing the job, and you deal with it as best you can.”

Favro also suggests that the local or national industry can be supportive of trail maintenance: “Companies who produce hiking boots or other outdoor equipment might be a good source of support, and they are sometimes overlooked.”

If any PRB readers have helpful suggestions about trail maintenance, jump into the discussion by writing to me or the editor, or visit the PRB website at and share your knowledge.

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