Great Trails Guidebook Foreword



In our fast-paced hectic society, it has never been more important to recreate; to immerse ourselves in an activity other than work with our family and friends and plunge ourselves into a different realm. Indeed, recreation is really re-creation: the act of rejuvenating our minds and bodies. Most people who recreate in the great outdoors utilize trails to enhance their experience, and they especially enjoy a great trail. A great off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail offers an outstanding recreation experience, but it can trigger something deeper than that; an emotion, an inspiration; the WOW, that invigorating, re-creating feeling. What made that trail so great and what created that feeling? A multitude of physical, subliminal, and emotional elements triggered that WOW feeling. How can it be re-created?

This book offers guidance on the planning, design, and construction process, using proven principles and techniques, to create a great OHV trail on the ground. But it goes beyond that. Creating a great OHV trail is one thing, but keeping it great for the long term is another. How can the trail be managed and maintained to preserve that special quality? What can be done with an existing trail to make it the best that it can be?

While it is difficult to teach creativity, managers can learn about the elements, tools, and techniques they can incorporate into a project to help ensure its quality and success. With the right mix of those elements and with the right frame of mind, the outcome just may be creative.


Many books are available about trails, but from an OHV perspective, the information out there is: a) not relative to OHVs; b) out of date since technology or best management practices have changed; or c) not current since off-highway vehicle types and the vehicles themselves have changed. What was state-of-the-art technology 20 years ago may or may not be valid today. Certainly, the vehicle types have changed. Thirty years ago, motorcycles dominated the market and all-terrain vehicles (ATV) were an emerging market. Over time, motorcycle sales have flattened, ATV sales have soared and flattened, and recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV) are the booming emerging market. Trail planning, design, construction, maintenance, and management techniques all need to change to adjust to the changing market and ensure that what is on the ground provides quality, sustainable recreation opportunities. Change will always occur, but the principles presented in this book will provide resiliency to that change.

Traditionally, trail planning, design, construction, maintenance, and management are separate processes. Most agencies fund these steps separately and often different departments within the agency handle each one. However, to have a truly great tail system, it is important to realize that all of these steps are really components of one process: the process of creating a great OHV trail. Each component must be implemented effectively or the whole project could fail. There have been trails planned and designed well, but poorly constructed; and there have been trails planned, designed, and constructed well, but poorly maintained or managed. The result may not be a failure in all cases, but it isn’t a total success either. The trail may not meet the riders’ needs, may not be sustainable, and may be costly to maintain. The outcome is dependent on the sum of its parts. This book integrates those components into one process and one thought pattern.

Creative vision

Creative vision: Is this just a tree to be cut out of the way of the flagline, or is it an opportunity to create a technical challenge feature for an ROV trail?

In starting to write this book, the question was: Is an OHV-specific design guide needed? The answer was a resounding “Yes.” Off-highway vehicle modality is vastly different than any other recreation trail modality. Motorized vehicles have motors and this is a critical difference. With the motor comes the desire to use it. With power assistance, OHV riders can climb, tackle technical terrain, and travel farther in a single day than any other user group. Most also desire to challenge their vehicles as well as themselves. All of this creates trail system planning and design considerations unique to OHVs. More physical, displacing forces are being delivered to the ground making trail design and durability a critical factor. Most OHV trails are wider than non-motorized trails and they collect and channel more water, which needs to be mitigated through proper location, design, and engineering. All of this necessitates more emphasis on effective OHV management, maintenance, and thorough trail system planning. The wide variety of motorized vehicle types and activity types generates the need for multiple sets of design parameters to address trail width, clearing, grade, obstacles, drainage, hardening, etc. While many design principles and techniques may be similar to those for non-motorized trails, the scope and complexity of those applications is much broader with OHVs.

Across the country, each trail has a unique combination of soil, topography, vegetation, and climate, so there cannot only be one tool in the tool box to solve a problem. Also, the tools used in one place may not be the same tools used on another trail in a similar situation. The need for a variety of tools and options is also driven by the huge regional diversity in OHV use types, numbers and concentration of riders, private and public land ownership mix, state and provincial laws, and agency policies. Rather than offer charts and tables filled with values that may be meaningless to a manager’s situation, this book offers a thought process to help the technician or manager understand the use, the riders’ needs, the natural environment, and the physical forces being applied to any given trail. With this understanding, the technician or manager can predict effects and make informed decisions. There are principles and guidelines, but few absolute rights and wrongs. Rather, there are choices: If I do this, what will be the effect? Because we all live in the
real world, the best solution might not be possible.

Creative vision: Is this just a tree to be cut out of the way of the flagline, or is it an opportunity to create a technical challenge feature for an ROV trail?

Provide for the riders’ needs
Ensure resource protection

There is a main theme running through this book: provide for the riders’ needs while ensuring resource protection. Applying this theme from planning to maintenance will help OHV managers achieve success, provide a high-quality recreation experience for the riders, and ensure resource protection. The WOW factor is an important aspect of trails. WOW is relative depending on the age, skill level, and the desired recreation experience of the rider. When managers create a high-quality trail, thousands of people will ride that trail and have smiles on their faces at the end of it. That is a WOW for them and for the OHV manager. WOW generates energy, project support, compliance, volunteerism, and increased funding opportunities; all key elements in a successful project and successful OHV program.

Please note that for the purposes of this book, the term “OHV” refers to off-highway motorcycles (OHM), all-terrain vehicles (ATV) or quads, recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV), also known as utility vehicles or side-by-sides, and four-wheel drive vehicles (4WD). The term does not include snowmobiles or other over-snow vehicles. Each chapter contains at least one of several insets:

  • A Look Back – a summary of key talking points
  • A Second Look – a photo or subject that has been brought up before, but is discussed again with a different option or viewpoint
  • A Closer Look – a subject that is brought up in the chapter, but is highlighted in more detail
  • A Case in Point – an actual example of a talking point discussed in the chapter
  • Tips, Tricks, or Traps – key points for success or failure
  • Need More? Learn More Here – key references that are applicable to the chapter material

Now, let’s start down that trail to success…

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