Trail Building Tips for Sensitive Areas

Trail Building in Sensitive Areas

Presented at the 2006 IMBA Summit/World Mountain Bike Conference

Speakers: Scott Linnenburger, IMBA; Rachael Lopes, IMBA

Great trail systems strike a balance between offering a memorable riding experience and the need to conserve natural features. Add artifacts, sensitive streams, or an endangered species into the mix and the job of the trail designer gets even more difficult.

Archaeological Sites

An archaeologist’s primary goal is to keep artifacts in their original position in the field, not in a museum.

Artifacts over 45 years old are considered a historical resource.

Sometimes, historical resources have little value, despite their age.

Archaeologists have to determine if a historical resource has integrity. Does it need to be protected? Is it associated with an important event or person? Does it have distinctive characteristics or yield important information? Lastly, it must be determined whether a trail will change the integrity of the resource.

Some public agencies take greater strides to preserve historical resources than others. National Monuments and Parks are designed to protect the resources and educate the public, while the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Land Management are more geared towards recreation.

Trail design should anticipate trends in both users and resources. Sometimes sensitive sites must be concealed, sometimes revealed.

Few historical resources are found on steep side slopes. Bench cut trail built on a side slope is less likely to encounter archaeological sites.

Sensitive Ecosystems

Regrouping points designed throughout the trail are a good way to prevent users from straying from the designated area and potentially harming sensitive sites or plant life, like cryptobiotics.

Interpretive placards on trails help educate users and protect the resources. Also, they help alert mountain bikers to the fact that other users, like hikers, may be on the trail.

Edge habitats, also known as ecotones, are areas of transition between different ecosystems like forests and grasslands. These tend to be the most diverse and sensitive areas.

Many land managers are concerned about the spread of noxious weeds. While trail users are not often the main cause of their spread, it is a good idea to install boot and tire wash stations at trailheads.

Fragmentation is often sited as a negative impact of trails. However, no research proves that a given level of trail density is better or worse than another. Trail designers can minimize fragmentation’s impact by locating the densest sections of trail near developed areas or trailheads.

Often, issues related to sensitive ecosystems are wrapped up in the social issues that exist in the area, and these must also be given consideration when advocating for trail access.