Purpose of trails

In many cases the effect of trail development on the special qualities of a place is outweighed by the need to prevent wear and tear and to control the access to an area by visitors. If a trail is needed, consideration should be given to the particular theme that it will be used to explore, and the objectives of its provision. Themes may be one of or a combination of the following:

– general exercise and relaxation by the family with an emphasis on multi-accessibility;

– scenic viewing leading to a viewpoint;

– wildlife viewing;

– visiting archaeological sites or other cultural features;

– educational visits to explore geology, geography or natural history;

– physically demanding routes for serious exercise.

The types of users of the trail will determine its physical

Design for outdoor recreation 154 characteristics, such as surfacing, gradients and lengths:

– walking only, bicycle only or horseriding only;

– integrated routes, which may give rise to complications or conflicts;

– partially integrated routes involving loops for horse-riding and cycling where conflicts are more likely;

– barrier-free routes to allow access by people with disabilities.

Trails can provide:

– a means of access into the outdoors and a route for people to follow with less chance of becoming lost, confronting physical dangers or damaging sensitive places—it signals that access is allowed and that the visitor is not trespassing;

– stimulating exercise in attractive surroundings—steep ascents and some rough scrambling can be incorporated in places;

– a variety of scenery, ranging from vista points to obtain panoramic views down to the small-scale details of plants seen along the side of the trail.

A key aspect of trail design is the choice of the route, not only in terms of length and gradient but also in the way the landscape is experienced. For example, dramatic views can be kept concealed until a particular point is needed where a surprise can be sprung on the visitor.

The design and layout of trail routes and surfaces depends on the degree of wildness desired and the wear and tear expected. In primitive settings no surfacing should be provided except to restore erosion. Conversely, in less wild places used by many people, wide, well-surfaced paths on easy grades may be appropriate and necessary.

The needs of people with disabilities should not be overlooked. People with limited mobility, or wheel-chair users, cannot always manage steep grades or rough surfaces, yet they should have a right to experience some of the dramatic views seen by everyone else.