The costs of improperly designed trails are hard to measure, but some of the costs are: erosion, labor to address erosion problems, poor user experience, trails that don’t get used, short cutting, possible extra rouge trails, and unnecessary safety risks.

Professional trail contractors usually install trails for +/-$3-7/foot, or +/-$30,000/mile if heavy equipment is required. This can increase if trail features like jumps, berms, steps, walls and bridges are involved.

In many cases trails can be installed by volunteer labor, at the cost of a few meals, some water, and a thank you. This will also build community involvement and a sense of ownership. Some projects segregate professional crews from volunteers or the two are joined. Some projects are exclusively volunteers or professionals.

Successful trails:

  1. have a sense of purpose- destinations, overlooks, rock outcrops, loops etc.
    1. keep within plan objectives of:
      1. Systemic: endeavor to be a complete system emphasizing local and regional continuity and connectivity
      2. Destination-Oriented
  2. cater to multiple levels of users- beginner to advanced hiker/runner/biker/equestrian
  3. are sustainable via the use of modern “trail science”- out sloped, sustainable grades, frequent grade reversals, positive and negative control points…(Criteria for trail placement, control points, and layout)

Common mistakes of trail building are:

  1. Falling for the Fall Line–Put simply, fall line trails are erosion nightmares. They turbo-charge natural and user-created erosion, exposing rocks and roots and generally living short lives before becoming loose, wide, ecosystem-damaging disasters. To build trails that last, use the Half Rule: trail grade, or steepness, shouldn’t exceed half the grade, or steepness, of the hillside; and the 10 Percent Rule: overall trail grade should be 10 percent or less.
  2. Guessing the Grade–Nobody, no matter how masterful their eye, can guess trail grades right every time. Trust us, we know. Sure, it’s fun to try, but use a clinometer to confirm the grade whenever you’re laying out trail – it’s worth a regiment of self-powered, Fantasia-style Pulaskis, because no amount of trailwork can fix a trail built on an unsustainable grade. If you don’t have a clinometer, we highly recommend an investment in this indispensable tool.
  3. Going Against the Flow–Not even race courses – which are sometimes designed with erratic flow to throw off a racer’s rhythm – should make this trailbuilding faux pas. All trailbuilders should make “smooth transitions” their mantra. Bad flow, especially fast sections leading into sharp turns, is a primary cause of user conflict. When you are building, think flow – it’s the key to an enjoyable trail.
  4. The rest of the top 10 mistakes: here

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