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How to Build a Good ATV Trail

How to Build a Good ATV Trail

Whether you are the proud owner of an all-terrain vehicle or you simply love the idea of off-highway recreation, there is a lot you can do with a substantial spread of private land. ATV riders are always on the hunt for new trails to tackle with their off-roading machines, but not many people realize just how much goes into building a safe and sustainable trail. Rest assured, riders! Although planning and building a trail can be sweaty and strenuous work, the reward is well worth the effort. In this guide, we not only take a closer look at the planning stage and factors to keep in mind when wanting to build your own trail but also some helpful suggestions from forest management agencies.

How to Build a Good ATV Trail

Before you start hacking away at those face-slapping branches or clearing woody brush and cleaning up debris, you must take great care in planning each and every aspect of your ATV trail. There may be limitations on certain parcels of the property. As a rule of thumb, you should always avoid straight lines. Instead, allow your ATV trail to ramble from one interpretive point to the next. Every parcel of land has its own contour lines that will make trail development a little easier and reduce the risk of erosion. You must also keep any potential effects on the surrounding resources in mind. When you can, use areas that have well-drained soils, as these will be more stable, less fragile, and easier to traverse.

On the subject of safety, look for any terrain features that may pose safety concerns for riders that will be using the trail. Are there any steep drop-offs, rocky outcroppings, or unstable tread surfaces? Choose alternative corridors that can help you avoid or minimize potentially hazardous situations. You can use topographic maps to lay out and evaluate the land you want to use for your ATV trail. You should also consult county soil maps or contact local agricultural officials to ensure that the soil conditions are fit for off-roading. Walk the proposed course to get a clear view of what obstacles you and your fellow riders will face once the trail is cleared and ready for recreation. This will also help when it comes to deciding whether there should be any speed limitations to avoid the risk of injury or damage to the trail.

There are two main types of ATV trails that riders use today: loop and recreational. A loop ATV trail is one that is typically 8 – 10 miles long or more and composed of a series of loops for varying experience levels. A recreational ATV trail is one that can span several hundred miles in length and cross multiple jurisdictions. These trails may even share with other motorized recreational vehicles. With a recreational ATV trail, public access must be provided at strategic points. Before any construction can begin, you or your club must set aside some land for parking and other purposes.

Go Easy on the Environment

Ripping and roaring down the trail can be exhilarating, of course, but one important part of responsible ATV ownership is creating a sustainable trail. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service has a lot of suggestions when it comes to building a new trail or improving an existing one so that you can safely keep water and soil healthy with sediment control. Shared stewardship is crucial and the U.S. Forest Service offers a variety of techniques to help you build and maintain a trail.

  • Keeping Water Off the Trail: It may seem obvious that water can shorten the life of any trail but it also increases the need for maintenance. Keeping water off the trail by use of water diversions will be essential to your overall design plans. Diversions can reduce the amount of water running down the trail, and steeper trail sections will call for more frequent diversions. A diversion must be at or below the deepest portion of the wheel track to allow for water to exist the trail. Look for locations where water might naturally flow off the trail, as these will be the best locations for diversions which will limit erosion, minimize pollution, and protect the forest.
  • Getting the Trail Over Water: When an all-terrain vehicle passes through streams, sediment can become dislodged from the stream bed and water is then tracked onto the approaches. These actions contribute sedimentation to the stream, which can lead to the loss of fertile topsoil, clogging, flooding, harm to plant and animal life, and more. To prevent these disturbances from impacting the aquatic environment, you must minimize the amount of contact an ATV has with the water in a stream. Ruts on stream approaches allow concentrated water flow that contains sediment to enter the stream directly. One technique you can use to get the trail across water is to build culverts and bridges. You can also minimize direct contact by using a ford.
  • Getting the Trail Over Weak Soil: Wet areas may indicate that the soil is weak and subject to deep rutting from recreational use. These areas are also subject to widening as riders seek steadier ground. Although you should avoid building your ATV trail across wet areas, you can use cement blocks, native rocks, or interlocking pavers to make these areas more passable with minimal impact on runoff management and soil conditions.

Using your all-terrain vehicle, a chain saw, a hack saw, shovels, and other tools, you can easily clear debris from the proposed course and create a trail that is worthy of an off-roading adventure. If you don’t have enough property to build your own trail or your club is interested in creating an all-new ride area, there may be a way to secure government funding for your ATV trail project. Every state has its own Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which has its own procedures to solicit and select projects for funding. Contact your local trail advisory committee to learn more!

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