Trail Standards

For presentation at April 1, 2010 Trails Council meeting.

Trails Council
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Comments on presentation

As was pointed out, there needs to be section on definitions of terms. One thing that was not well defined and led to some confusion was the difference between a trail and a trail segment. For keeping track of our trails in the database we divides each trail (named trail with a single blaze throughout its length) into segments, generally at maintainer boundaries. For many reasons we want to extend this definition to include dividing into new segments for many more reasons, e.g. change of landowner, between trail junctions with other trails, and in the case of standards, wherever the applicable standards change. For example, we might have a trail where the first half mile is ADA accessible into the base of a waterfall but then it gets steep and rocky. Generally we want to make the segment boundaries due to changing trail standards reasonably rare and not changing every time there is a short extra steep spot.One growing demand in the standards community is to design for universal access. This includes signage at trailheads that let hikers know what to expect along the trail, e.g. in the example above the sign might say "accessible for first half mile, challenging for the next three miles to the junction with the red trail." So this trail might be divided into two segments for standards reasons, even though the longer piece has a 1 mile easier piece in the middle. In other words there are going to be lots of subjective judgments about when to divide a trail into segments for standards reasons.As you can see from looking at the tables for each trail class, the harder classes all allow things like 0-15% grade and not 10-15% grade so it is possible to have easier sections of hard trails. For trails with segments that meet different standards it is hard to describe them as easy, moderate, strenuous without qualifications, but most likely they should be described by the most challenging standard that is generally encountered by someone doing the whole trail. However most of our parks have networks of trails and many hikes consist of using many different trails so hikes need descriptions that probably use the most challenging segment of the most challenging trail used for the hike. From a standards point of view we are not interested in ratings for hikes, only on what standards apply to particular segments of trails.