Trails for the Twenty-first Century Second Edition: Planning, Design, and Management Manual for Multi-Use Trails / Edition 2

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Communities across the country are working to convert unused railway and canal corridors into trails for pedestrians, cyclists, horseback riders, and others, serving the needs of both recreationists and commuters alike. These multi-use trails can play a key role in improving livability, as they offer an innovative means of addressing sprawl, revitalizing urban areas, and reusing degraded lands.

Trails for the Twenty-First Century is a step-by-step guide to all aspects of the planning, design, and management of multi-use trails. Originally published in 1993, this completely revised and updated edition offers a wealth of new information including.

  • discussions of recent regulations and federal programs, including ADA and TEA-21
  • recently revised design standards from AASHTO
  • current research on topics ranging from trail surfacing to conflict resolution
  • information about designing and building trails in brownfields and other
  • environmentally troubled landscapes

Also included is a new introduction that describes the importance of rail-trails to the sustainable communities movement, and an expanded discussion of maintenance costs. Enhanced with a wealth of illustrations, Trails for the Twenty-First Century provides detailed guidance on topics such as: taking a physical inventory and assessment of a site; involving the public and meeting the needs of adjacent landowners; understanding and complying with existing legislation; designing, managing, and promoting a trail; and where to go for more information. It is the only comprehensive guidebook available for planners, landscape architects, local officials, and community activists interested in creating a multi-use trail.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of the American Planning Association
"Nothing escaped the authors' attention, and with so much real-world information, Trails for the Twenty-first Century is easily the single most useful reference book for trail planners."
Audubon Naturalist News
"The information is given in a reassuring step-by-step manner that doesn't assume the reader has trail experience."
No date is mentioned for the first edition, but by 1999 it had sold out, and the authors<-->landscape planners and architects<-->took the opportunity to update the guide. They describe the entire process of creating a trail from start to finish, and managing it for the future. Among the changes are new regulations and designing for users of all types and people of abilities. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559638197
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles A. Flink is president of Greenways, Inc. in Cary, North Carolina and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University.

Kristine Olka is a planner with Greenways, Inc.

Robert M. Searns, AICP, is with Urban Edges, a consulting firm specializing in trail and greenway design based in Littleton, Colorado.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, based in Washington, D.C., is a national nonprofit membership organization that seeks to facilitate the conversion of abandoned rail corridors and connect open space into a nationwide network of public trails.

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Read an Excerpt

Trails for the Twenty-First Century

Planning, Design, and Management Manual for Multi-Use Trails

By Charles Flink, Olka Kristine, Searns Robert


Copyright © 2001 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55963-819-7


Getting Started

So you want to build a trail. Congratulations! You join thousands of other advocates, elected officials, and professionals who want to improve their communities by developing trails as new recreation and off-road transportation facilities, outdoor public health facilities, and public resources.

At the beginning of any trail project, keep in mind that you are undertaking a significant community enhancement project that will be enjoyed for generations to come. For this reason, trail development can have all of the physical, social, political, and financial challenges of building a major highway: rights-of-way negotiations, grading, underpasses, overpasses, surfacing, and landscaping issues.

The trail may be built quickly, but more likely the effort will take years of persistent hard work that will be well worthwhile in the end. You will have created not merely a pathway but an experience—a place of enjoyment, a place of solace, a place of discovery to be enjoyed by thousands for generations to come. A well-designed trail can be a work of art, a legacy.

The genesis of a trail project may occur in a number of different ways. The route may be identified in a statewide, regional, or local master plan. It may be a specific corridor identified by a community group, or it could be the result of a serendipitous opportunity created by rail abandonment. This book focuses on developing trails within human-built corridors, including former rail beds, canals, and roads.

In any case, the first step in building a trail is determining the route. Once you have identified the route, give it a name—an inspiring name—even if it is only temporary, so that you and others can speak in terms of a specific trail corridor instead of a nondescript area. Also identify the context into which the route fits, considering the larger plan of a community system of trails, as well as nearby resources that may be connected by the trail (see Case Study 1). You should also start to think about the vision of the trail and how to involve the larger community in creating this vision (see "Community Involvement" in Chapter 2).

Your next step is to gather as much information as you can about the corridor, the people who will use the corridor, and the surrounding community. This can be accomplished through conducting research on the people and conditions in the area, and by completing an inventory of the corridor and surrounding environments.

Your Trail and the Community

Background research of the community goes hand in hand with a field inventory of your future trail corridor. You can find this information by contacting user groups, nonprofit organizations (environmental, education, health, community development), local planning, zoning, transportation, public health, education, and parks departments, or state environmental, transportation, or parks agencies. You should also obtain copies of any recent planning efforts conducted for the area, including land-use plans, park plans, or transportation plans, that may contain useful information about future site conditions. For example, a transportation plan may reveal a proposal for a new roadway that will cross the trail corridor. A parks plan may provide information about recreational needs in the community. Obtain any existing trail master plans. Is your trail part of a proposed system? Who is identified to build and maintain trails in the community?

It is important to examine the local community because the trail corridor will not function in a vacuum—a variety of individuals, businesses, and government agencies will have an interest in what happens along the way. When planning your trail, be sure you know who is likely to be affected by it and who has an interest in it. This knowledge will help you plan effectively and avoid possible setbacks by exposing potential conflicts or opposition early in the process. You may also find opportunities for joint ventures and other mutual benefits with those holding a stake in the corridor.

You will be talking with a variety of people as you carry out your community assessment. Try to develop good relationships with all those who hold a stake in the trail corridor. As you talk with them, try to be sensitive to the corridor's history, its politics, its community character, and the sentiment of adjacent landowners.

Identifying Stakeholders

Stakeholders are individuals, groups, or agencies that will be impacted by, benefit from, or otherwise be interested in your trail corridor. Building rapport with stakeholders will be vital to your project's success. Identifying these individuals and groups, and later contacting them, can help to avoid unpleasant surprises and build the all-important alliances you will need during the implementation phase.

Building your list of stakeholders can be accomplished in several ways. Talking with key public agencies such as the planning department or city engineer will help. Checking the names of landowners at the tax assessor's office will also provide vital information. Some information can be gleaned during site visits along the trail and through informal talks with local residents and business people. Your presentations at community forums and workshops will also elicit local support and concerns. Bear in mind that you will be gathering information throughout the assessment and public participation process, so be prepared for new names, faces, ideas, and concerns all through the planning phase and even after the trail is built. (See "Public Involvement" in Chapter 2.) Here is a list of some of the typical stakeholders with whom you will likely be working.

COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS. Identify and list all community organizations with a potential interest in the project. Include recreation clubs (e.g., bicycling, hiking, equestrian, skiing, and snowmobiling clubs), environmental organizations, groups for the elderly and disabled, historical societies, homeowners' associations, business associations, civic clubs, chambers of commerce, farmers and farm organizations, educational groups, trade associations, schools, public health groups, community development organizations, art and cultural commissions—anyone who may have a stake in what you are planning. Involve at least one person from each group in your trail development process. Do not try to avoid or exclude anyone, even those opposed to the trail. You need the comments, ideas, and support of a myriad of groups for your trail to succeed.

POLITICAL JURISDICTIONS. Identify and document all political jurisdictions along the corridor, preferably mapping their boundaries in relation to the trail corridor. An up-to-date gas-station-style local road map can be a good place to start identifying jurisdictions. Include special districts (such as schools, water, and sewer districts) as well as cities, towns, counties, states, and federal congressional districts and agencies. Also, try to gather information on the community's politics and history regarding trails. Has a trail ever been proposed/developed in the community and what was the reaction? Discussions with parks, planning, and public works staff can be very helpful as well as a check of newspaper articles, local Web sites, and talking with local residents and business owners.

LOCAL, STATE, FEDERAL, AND UTILITY AGENCIES. List (and contact) all governmental agencies with a potential interest in your project—they may be required to review your trail project for compliance with legislation and regulations. They also may be planning projects such as roads or sewers that will have an impact on your corridor, or they may be a source of potential funding. Your local regional planning agency or council of governments may be able to help with this. Begin thinking about areas of mutual interest and partnership opportunities with these agencies. If applicable, include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (if a wetland or waterway is involved), Environmental Protection Agency, Surface Transportation Board (if a rail-trail is involved), federal and state wildlife agencies, state and local parks and planning departments, state and local drainage and flood-control agencies, as well as state and local transportation and highway agencies.

Also list any public or private utility companies that may have an affected interest, including electric companies, irrigation ditch companies, water and sewer utilities, fiberoptic companies, telephone companies, railroads, and gas pipeline companies. Many areas have utility identification companies that may be able to help you in identifying utility corridors. You might also want to check with your state public utilities commission. Many trails have been successfully developed within utility rights-of-way.

RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES ALONG THE CORRIDOR. What kinds of communities do you find along the corridor? Is the area rural, suburban, urban, or a combination of these? Are the people high-income, lower-income, professional, or blue-collar? Are they highly mobile, or have they lived there for generations? Are the residents elderly, middle-aged, or young families in starter homes? For demographic information, consult local planning agencies. Also consider reading recent U.S. Census reports and visiting areas to get a feel for the people and the neighborhoods. Studies have shown that the majority of trail users are nearby residents, so gathering information about them will be useful in understanding their needs and concerns, and in choosing appropriate uses for the trail.

Try to get a sense of how the people along the corridor view their neighborhood or community and how they see the trail fitting into their long-range objectives. How will the trail benefit them? Do they want access? If so, where? Be sure you are aware of and understand any community fears and concerns about the trail. Anticipate possible resistance, especially from nearby residents or businesses along the corridor. Nothing can hold up a project faster than opposition by adjacent landowners. Get to know them, and find out what they really want and what they care about. (See "Meeting the Needs of Adjacent Landowners" in Chapter 2.)

Ownership and Land Use

It is critical that you gather information about the ownership of the corridor, as well as adjacent lands. Ownership of the corridor may be difficult to define, especially if the corridor is a former rail bed, since deed information may be very old and properties may have changed hands many times. In some cases, the land is owned by a single landowner; however, most corridors are owned by numerous individuals, and ownership may constitute an easement instead of a deed. You may need to enlist the services of a real estate attorney or title company to complete this task. Refer to Secrets of Successful Rail- Trails and Acquiring Rail Corridors by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Washington, D.C., for more information on investigating the ownership of human-made corridors.

Compile an orderly list of key owners of adjacent lands, including information on their interests, concerns, and how to contact them. Tax assessor maps at city hall or the county courthouse will be helpful. While these maps are not always reliable, and should not be considered precise legal descriptions of property lines, they are usually sufficient for identifying most of the property owners. Also, be sure to keep in mind renters of land and buildings, even though you may not be able to identify all of them.

To make sure that your trail becomes part of a viable alternative transportation system, consider existing and proposed land uses (see Figure 1.1). Pay special attention to properties directly abutting the corridor. As you inventory land use, consider the trail's role in linking residential neighborhoods to other community resources, such as shopping centers, parks, schools, transit stops, and offices. Also assess whether these areas present opportunities for or constraints on trail development. Identify and map planned public and private projects that may affect the corridor. These may include the following:


• Residential (neighborhoods, homes)

• Commercial (shopping, offices)

• Parks and Recreational (ball fields, preserves)

• Agricultural (farmland)

• Institutional (schools, colleges)

• Industrial (factory, rail yard)

• Open Space/Vacant Properties

RESIDENTIAL. If possible, identify the type and density of housing near the corridor: single-family, townhouse, low-rise, high-rise, senior housing. Acknowledge any potential privacy or security concerns arising from the trail corridor's use.

COMMERCIAL. Include offices, theaters, restaurants, and stores, noting likely destination points, such as a shopping mall. Linkages to commercial areas can boost economic activity.

RECREATIONAL. Include important recreational destinations such as parks, ball fields, forest preserves, museums, and recreation centers (Figure 1.2). Note the facilities present, including rest rooms, water fountains, and parking. Certain recreation areas, such as golf courses, can present a potential hazard to trail users. You do not want trail users to be struck by an errant golf shot.

AGRICULTURAL. The size and kind of agricultural activity are important. Consider potential conflicts arising from users trespassing on private farms, the use of toxic or noxious chemicals, and livestock wandering onto the trail.

INSTITUTIONAL. Note schools by type—elementary, middle, high school, and college. Schools can be important destination points, and trail links to schools may go a long way toward helping you sell your project as safe off-road transportation. Other institutional resources include libraries, cultural centers, civic buildings, and public health facilities.

INDUSTRIAL. Identify heavy, medium, and light industrial uses of adjacent land, and note any possible conflicts, including any safety hazards, targets for vandalism, noise pollution, and so on. A trail next to a railroad switching yard, for example, could create a potentially hazardous situation if children using the trail were attracted into the rail yard. Identify any abandoned industrial areas that might be environmentally contaminated (see "Environmental Contamination Issues" in this chapter).

VACANT PROPERTIES AND OPEN SPACE. Take special note of vacant properties adjoining the trail corridor. Are any in public ownership, and do they have the potential to be developed as trailside parks or future trailheads? Is any future development planned on large vacant tracts? Do opportunities exist for future trail-related development? Can proposed developments be linked to the trail? Are there efforts to preserve natural areas along the way?

Historic and Cultural Considerations

Trail builders and historians make great partners. More often than not, trail corridors follow routes steeped in history. River valleys, canals, and, later, rail lines were the routes of settlement, the first passages for travel and commerce by indigenous people and early settlers (Figure 1.3). They are often rich in artifacts and lore, and they offer unique paths to the past if their histories are preserved and interpreted. Think about opportunities to provide interpretive waysides, displays of artifacts, or other ways to tell stories of the past (see "Understanding the History of Your Trail" in Chapter 3). Consider contacting local arts organizations or museums to explore possibilities for incorporating into your trail project public art that highlights its history and culture. Here are some key historic and cultural considerations and information sources.

LOCAL HISTORY OF THE CORRIDOR. Most communities have local history books. You can probably ascertain what is available by visiting your local library or historical society. Try to find local rail or canal enthusiasts, and talk with teachers. You might convince a high school class or college student to research the corridor's history as a school project. Meet with adjacent property owners who may have interesting records or anecdotal material.


Excerpted from Trails for the Twenty-First Century by Charles Flink, Olka Kristine, Searns Robert. Copyright © 2001 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
CHAPTER 1 - Getting Started,
CHAPTER 2 - Planning and Public Involvement,
CHAPTER 3 - Designing Your Trail,
CHAPTER 4 - Building Your Trail,
CHAPTER 5 - Managing and Maintaining Your Trail,
CHAPTER 6 - Maximizing Your Trail's Potential,
Annotated Resource Directory,
About the Authors,
Island Press Board of Directors,

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