The Essence of a Great Trail is: WOW!
An interview with Dick Dufourd about the WOW factor.
The “WOW Factor” is mentioned throughout the 18 chapters of “Great Trails.” What is WOW?
“WOW is something that transcends the whole process. WOW is in trail location, design and planning. It’s in trail construction and maintenance. It’s in the physical and human elements of an OHV trail. It’s in everything.
“To me, it’s all about paying attention to trail location details, and attention to providing for the riders’ needs. If you’re really conscientious about those two things, you’re going to provide WOW.”
How do you create WOW for the wide range of riders and their expectations?
“WOW is all about variety. What may be a WOW to me may not be a WOW to you. But everybody loves a trail system where they get to see a lot of different things. Providing variety is an effective OHV planning and design tool that will help ensure management success. It could be a spectacular view, neat interpretive signs, unusual physical features, or stops for wildlife viewing. It can be a big WOW riding experience, or a small WOW social experience, like creating a place to stop for lunch at a scenic overlook.
“As planners, we try to get OHV riders to those places and experiences. If you can do that, you’re going to be one step closer to providing WOW. Then you continue to provide it through design, maintenance and construction.”
In your presentation, you talk about trail design being like an artist’s palette.
“There’s a lot of artistry in trail location and design. It’s about lines, colors, textures, contrast and depth. In my presentation, there’s a photo of a single-track trail where a rider is looking at a characteristic snag; a tall, dead tree located on a rim with a dramatic view. The trail was located to direct the riders’ eyes right at that snag. It was framed by an incredible view in the background. It’s very artistic.
“Another photo shows a rock we found during a field day at last year’s NOHVCC Workshop in Flagstaff. It blew me away, because it was on an outstanding trail location. They didn’t realize what they had because they see it every day.”
So look at your trail like you’re riding it for the very first time?
“Exactly. You’re the tour guide, and you’re showing off what there is to see in that particular area. They can be big things or little things. Take a step back and think about what there is to showcase and how well you can showcase it.
“We looked at a proposed trail system in southern Minnesota. We were walking down this ridge. We stopped at a spot where, with a little select clearing of trees, riders would have a vista of a river valley below that would be really cool.
“At the Gypsum City OHV Park (in Fort Dodge, Iowa), we saw wild turkeys spring from the tall grass. That was a WOW moment for that particular place.
“Rock canyons, streams and waterfalls, challenge features are Wow, as are things that evoke feelings and emotions. Find the elements that make riders say ‘WOW’. I think there are three levels of WOW that add up to trigger an emotional response in the riders. Certainly, there is the big WOW: the dramatic vista. Then there is the little wow: a unique rock formation, the stud pile, the snag framed against the skyline, or a trail with great flow. Finally, there is the subconscious wow, which I call subliminal absorption: the burnt stump, the character tree, the unique little patch of vegetation, and so forth. These are seen by the riders, and not consciously registered as wow, but they add up and at the end of the day, the riders say ‘WOW’. I’ll ask riders what it was that triggered that response, and often they’ll say: ‘I don’t know.’ In some landscapes, the only features for the designer to capitalize on may be little wow or subliminal wow.”
What’s an example of a WOW moment during trail construction?
“Again, pay attention to little details. Do you leave the log or take it out? You turn a rock over. Do you leave it turned over or do you leave it so the mossy side is up? Do you leave the flagging there, or do you pick it up? Do you leave the brush and slash in piles or clumps, or do you scatter it out?
“The opportunities are there, they’re just different everywhere you go. Sometimes you’re so focused on the big things that you might overlook the little things. That’s why I tell my story about the ‘stud pile.’ In Nevada, a stud pile is a very common thing, but if you’ve never seen one before, it’s really something neat.”
Okay, that’s a new one for me. What’s a stud pile?
“Joani and I were asked to evaluate a large parcel of land in Nevada. We came across these huge piles of horse dung, from a foot high to 4 feet high. We hadn’t seen those before. We went WOW what is this? We actually stopped on our motorcycles and took pictures of each other posing in front of the piles of horse dung. We found out later that wild horses use stud piles to mark their territory.
“That’s a perfect example. You might have things on the trail that you look at every day, and you don’t think anything of them. But to someone from outside the area, that’s a WOW. There is seat time and there is activity time. Here we spent a half hour taking pictures of each other by this stud pile. It extended our activity time and gave us a WOW factor...and a great story.”
So it’s as much about getting off the vehicle as it is about riding it.
“Certainly. A couple years ago we went to the Paiute trail (in central Utah). It was in the fall. It wasn’t technical riding, but the fall colors were absolutely spectacular. And we came around a bend and there was this huge view with all the colors and the first word out of your mouth was WOW. It registers as a unique and beautiful experience. Having those vistas to view from a trail, that’s where it all started.
“It goes back to providing variety, and providing something with that attention to detail, especially in trail location and design, where you are directing the riders’ eyes. That is really important. In doing so, you are managing the use, protecting resources, and controlling the rider experience.
“WOW appears everywhere in the book, because that is what it’s all about. It is everywhere, and there are just so many elements to it. A WOW today can be a different WOW tomorrow. I hope everyone takes that away when they read the Great Trails book or attend a Great Trails Workshop.”
Dick Dufourd was inducted into the NOHVCC Hall of Fame at the organization’s annual conference in 2015. As Dufourd writes in the book’s dedication: “Great trails don’t just happen. They are created, managed, and maintained through vision, passion, and sound engineering.”
This article just scratches the surface of how to work WOW into trail planning, design, construction and maintenance. To understand WOW in all its context, order copies of “Great Trails” for your club, state association, or state or federal agency’s OHV program, at this link: http://gt.nohvcc.org/About.aspx