Wilderness Nature Trails
These trails are kept as close to their natural state as possible. They are foot paths only. (If dry and flat they can be wheel chair accessible.) These are the least expensive trails to develop, however they do require maintenance as they are affected by yearly regrowth, flooding, and weather/foot traffic erosion.
Generally, wilderness nature trails require at least a 36” cleared path. This means not only clearing the ground of stumps, roots, stones and brush in a 36” swath, but also cutting back trees and shrubs in that width for the height of hikers (presumably about 6’). Ideally it helps to design the trail to avoid thickets and trees but they cannot always be avoided and some vegetation will have to be sacrificed.
As the trail erodes, tree roots and stones will emerge that will make the trail rougher. At the wilderness nature trail level this is acceptable and lends to the experience but will not accommodate wheel chair accessible needs. (Requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) state that general use trails need wellpacked or hard surfaces and gentle grades. These trails will preferably form a loop from start to finish, and be 1/2 to 2 miles in length.)
Streams and wetland areas can be made negotiable with pressure treated walkways. The simplest form are cedar posts cut to 3 foot lengths set across the trail to hold up cedar or pressure treated 2” x 8” boards of the length needed. For boards more than 6’ in length three cedar cross pieces are recommended. Cedar is naturally moisture resistant and can sit right in standing water, but may have to be replaced every few years.
Gravel Lined Nature Trails
A gravel-lined nature trail is usually much wider than a wilderness trail. It still requires the trail clearing done in a wilderness nature trail, but is usually cleared as wide as 5 - 8 feet. The trail is then excavated to a depth of 6 inches and filled with crusher stones and compacted. This requires much more labor and expense up front, but allows for a much more diverse group of users including elderly and those who are wheel chair bound. In steep incline areas, cribbing steps are generally used.
This style of trail can be enhanced with what is called, “turnpike trail construction.” This is where the outer edges of the trail are lines with treated 6” x 6” or 6” x 8” treated timbers (or cedar), so that when the crusher stone is poured in, it comes level with the top of the timber edges. This is often used in boggy areas to elevate the trail off the wetland.
Paved Nature Trails
In urban areas or at facilities designed for accessibility, some trails will actually be paved with concrete or brick. This is a very expensive trail and not practical for wilderness use.
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Amsel, Sheri. "How Developed Will Your Nature Trail Be?" Exploring Nature Educational Resource ©2005-2021. January 23, 2021
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