Some activities, such as bicycling or rollerblading, may require a specific surface. On the other hand, activities like snowshoeing can be compatible with a regular walking trail.
Conduct an Inventory of the Property
Examine the project area for natural and constructed features that will enhance or detract from the trail user’s experience. This should identify key places on the property that the trail should connect — such as vistas, fishing areas and boathouses — and fragile areas that should be avoided, including erodible soils, wetlands and historic sites such as burial grounds. Gather this information on a map of the property drawn appropriately to scale.
Carefully Design the Trail
Develop design specifications for your trail based on its intended use. Determine the trail pattern and approximate length, maximum grade and minimum overhead clearance and width standards. Try to develop a trail pattern that connects your points of interest in a closed loop design with a single access point. Loop patterns avoid backtracking and allow you to have more trails in a smaller area.
Incorporate curves and subtle bends into the trail design to increase user interest and make it seem more remote. Using the “lay of the land,” or natural topography, also will help prevent the soil erosion that can result from a straight section. To facilitate natural drainage and increase user interest, frequently alternate grades and directions.
As a rule of thumb, trails ideally should be one-third level, one-third uphill and one-third downhill.
While trail width and overhead clearance standards will vary depending on how the trail will be used, the terrain it traverses and its maintenance needs, a trail corridor normally is cleared to a minimum height of eight feet and a width of four to six feet. Growing vegetation can close in on clearings smaller than that. Wider trails may be necessary where there are overhanging branches that may become bowed by snow or rain.
Soil types affect water drainage and erosion potential and will determine what tread materials can be used. Use soil maps to identify the soil types on the property and to determine their suitability for different uses and tread materials. One type of soil might be fine for a crushed stone or stone dust surface, while another may require a more natural, organic surface material.
Matching the surface material to both the uses intended for the trail and the existing soil types is critical.
Walk the Lay of the Land
Once the research and plan development phase has been completed, it's time to get outside. Walk the proposed trail corridor in both directions. Identify potential problems, such as water crossings, wet soils and steep side slopes, and develop solutions.
Examine trail drainage and vegetative screening. A trail that follows natural contours, gently curving and bending around obstacles and disturbing the site as little as possible is aesthetically pleasing and more enjoyable to travel. It may be necessary to adjust the route several times. Once the final route has been determined, mark the trail with brightly colored flagging tape tied to trees and bushes.
Clear Brush and Debris
Begin construction by cutting brush and small trees flush with the ground to prevent tripping and to reduce stump sprouting. Avoid cutting healthy trees larger than seven inches in stem diameter. Some trees in our area, such as box elder and basswood, may require chemical stump treatments to prevent re-sprouting. Cleanly prune overhanging branches at the branch collar on the tree trunk, or where a branch forks. Scatter branches and other debris off the trail, or pile it for wildlife cover.
Prepare for Construction
For most walking trails, the ideal surface is natural soil free of stones and protruding roots. Natural trails become easily distinguishable and comfortable to walk after a month of regular traffic. A three- to six-inch layer of organic material — woodchips, shredded bark or sawdust — mixed with screened gravels can make hikes more comfortable and reduce soil compaction.
You can obtain these materials at little or no cost from local utility companies, yard waste recycling centers and sawmills. However, this material tends to decay quickly in shaded areas and must be replenished at least every two years.
Vegetative coverings, such as grasses, also reduce soil compaction and erosion, but require periodic resting periods in heavily used areas. Species selection will vary widely depending on lighting conditions and soil types.
Use hard surfaces only for heavily used trails, wheelchair-accessible trails and bicycle paths. These materials can be extremely expensive and difficult to install. They also can detract from the initial goal of providing a natural experience.
Make Your Trails Multipurpose and Multi-Use
One person’s sanctuary is another person's place for a workout. You can promote a wide range of activities using basic trails. You can preserve natural habitat without making the trail unusable for other purposes. Self-guided exercise stations can be provided for people who are using the trail for a workout.
While preparing to launch Shepard’s Cove, our company wanted to take full advantage of a wooded site with more than 3,100 feet of tidal waterfront. We designed viewing areas with benches for watching waterfowl and sunsets and also resting. The trail system connects building pods and other shared amenities such as a clubhouse and a boathouse for kayaks and canoes.
While few will disagree that a natural trail system can be both an attractive and economical amenity for residents, it can also present development pitfalls that — like other components of any active adult community — are best avoided by taking the time to prepare a good design.
This article appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Seniors’ Housing News, a quarterly magazine of the NAHB Seniors Housing Council. Author Steve Schuster is vice president of development for Chinburg Builders, a custom home builder based on the New Hampshire seacoast. As special projects manager, Schuster oversees the development process in the company’s active adult and historic mill renovation projects. He can be reached by e-mail or at 603-868-5995 x19.
Enter Your Design in Seniors Housing Awards Competition
If you have an innovative design for active adult and seniors communities, enter the 2004 Best of Seniors Housing Design Awards competition. Click here to view the call for entries brochure, or e-mail Eucklan Matthews or call 800-368-5242 x8220. The deadline for entries is Nov. 13.
Learn More About Seniors Housing Through the Seniors Housing Council
To learn more about seniors housing or boomers, join the NAHB Seniors Housing Council. The council provides information, education, networking and recognition opportunities for its members and represents NAHB on seniors housing issues. For more details, e-mail Jeff Jenkins or call him at 800-368-5242 x8292.
BuilderBooks.com Has Publications About Seniors Housing
BuilderBooks.com offers a variety of publications about the seniors housing market. To view or purchase these publications, click here and type “seniors” in the search engine.
2004 Seniors Housing Symposium
To learn more about the seniors housing market, plan to attend the 2004 Seniors Housing Symposium, Building for Boomers & Beyond in Chicago from April 14-16, 2004. The symposium will focus on the lifestyle component of 50+ seniors housing.
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