by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator, City of Prescott
Ever wonder how a trail is designed and built? There is much planning and coordinating that goes into the process.
It starts with the land. Ownership is a huge player in the trail evolution process. In many cases locally, the land is owned by the state, Bureau of Land Management, county, city, or privately owned. It can be challenging to work around each agency’s requirements, especially depending on what type of land exchange is taking place. Some examples of arrangements are easements, outright purchases or long-term leases.
Many trails got their start as social paths created from the desire to have a nice pathway connecting two distance points. The issue with social trails is many times they are not legal, are not built in a sustainable manner, do not hold up to tough weather conditions, and often go unmaintained.
Ideally, trails are constructed to disperse users in the interest of safety. It is also important to consider unique features that users will seek while keeping environmental impacts to a minimum.
With City of Prescott trails, guidelines from the International Mountain Bicycling Alliance are followed. The alliance has been a steward for mountain bicycling in communities since the late 1980s. The group focuses on educating communities and trail users on principles of their stewardship and helps guide agencies in building sustainable trails.
Depending on terrain, the City of Prescott has special trail-building equipment to expedite construction of new trails. Once the proposed path is planned, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) is used to plot the trail. Traditional colorful flagging materials generally are installed to guide the equipment along the way. A trail-specific bulldozer, only about 4 feet wide, saves precious time by pushing through the first pass, removing any brush from the area and making way for a small excavator to come through, cleaning anything left behind.
These preparations allow for a hand crew to follow the preliminary work and groom the newly created path while ensuring sight lines are safe for horseback riders, mountain bicyclists and hikers.
If the terrain is not conducive to using the trail-specific equipment, then an all-manual hand crew is assembled and the construction timeline is greatly extended. Funding sources can also dictate how a trail is constructed, with grants and tax revenue often playing a large role. A good example of trails constructed with the equipment/hand-crew combination is the recent additions to Pioneer Park Trails. Flat grasslands speckled with shrub oak and juniper made for a perfect project using the Sutter Dozer, which proves to be quite cost-effective and easily transported.
All City of Prescott Trail maps can be viewed by going to www.prescotttrails.com, where you can also view a video on how the Trails and Natural Parklands planner determines trail design.