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Trailbuilding Basics

Chapter 3 - Layout

A. Locate the land owner or manager, establish a relationship, and get permission before you build or repair anything.

  1. Let them know that you are part of an organized group.

  2. Present a written proposal that describes what and where you intend to build.

  3. Make your proposal a complete plan from start to finish with a time frame to complete the project. Don't just tell the land manager that you want them to build a trail and expect it to get done without your help.

  4. Be willing to compromise, whether you're working on public or private land.

B. Know the area

  1. Hike the entire area from boundary to boundary.

  2. Look for and identify geographic control points (ie; marshes, rock out croppings, historic sites, scenic vistas).

  3. Control points help you avoid sensitive areas and steer your trail to places people will want to go. Otherwise social trails will develop.

C. Establish the route

  1. Mark all control points on a topographic map. Good points in green, bad in red.

  2. Draw the trail by connecting the green points together.

  3. Be careful to keep the trail drawn on the contours and avoid the fall line.

Mountain bikers always tell us that they want steep hills because they "love the challenge." But 300 feet of elevation is 300 feet of elevation. A long, slow climb with some technical challenge is a thrill that lasts longer than a short wall (that may be unridable in wet conditions). A long, twisty descent is a thrill measured in minutes rather than seconds.

We have found that trying to build trails that require advanced skills in urban parks can lead to user impact problems due to the ease of access for beginners. Urban trails should be kept to an intermediate level at the highest and technical challenge should be provided using natural features.

D. Building flow into the trail

  1. There are two basic types of trail building designs: open and flowing, and tight and technical:

    • Tight and technical trails promote slower speeds, can be built with sharper and steeper turns, and provide the opportunity to encounter more challenging features (rocks, logs, etc.).

    • Open and flowing trails feature sweeping turns, and fewer technical features. They can be ridden by less-skilled riders. Average speeds will be higher than on tight and technical trails.

  2. Avoid mixing types without a proper segue. The transition from open and flowing to tight and technical should be gradual or on an uphill section of trail. Try not to make constant changes from one type to the other; it encourages skidding and the formation of braking bumps.

  3. Know what mountain bikers want. Many are looking for narrow singletrack, some type of technical challenge, and scenic vistas.

  4. Know who will use the trail. Some of the management factors that will affect the design are single use, multiple use, or directional trails. Trails close to urban areas should generally be designed to accommodate beginner to intermediate use. Trails built in less populated areas can often be designed to appeal to more accomplished riders.

Trail flow examples
(Left to right) The left drawing shows good open and flowing
type design. The middle shows good tight and technical type
design. The right, however, is an example of poor design.
It shows abrupt transition from one type of design to the other.

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