Trails 101: How to get started?

(Taken from from Mountainland AOG web site)
Step 1 Have political leaders (mayor, city council), in a public meeting, provide for the formation of a Public Advisory Group (PAG) that is recognized by the city. City Staff and the PAG should then be charged with the responsibilities of identifying and creating a trails plan, and recommending that system for adoption into the City Master Plan by city council action. A public advisory committee will provide invaluable public input into the design and selection process, and provide a“citizens view” to the planning process.
Step 2 Identify political allies who will champion trails planning and help push through adoption and implementation. The mayor or members of the city council or planning commission are vital allies. Local business leaders or other influential and outspoken people should lead this work.
Step 3

Learn all you can about trails, locally and nationally. Some good starting points are on the Internet. Below are links to another trail planning outline, trail information, and an example of a trail plan to help you along. (Also see attached list of websites at bottom)

Another trail planning outline (similar to Trails 101) Click here
Information on Trail Planning Click here
An example of a trail plan Click here
Step 4

Create a Trails Committee Vision Statement (a model statement is available on page 3 of the Sample City Trail Plan)

a. Identify the need for trails in the community – Why trails?
b. Identify goals for the trails system – What we want it to accomplish? (see pages 3-4 of sample City Trail Plan)

Step 5

Develop criteria for selection and prioritization. Create a trail system that is not just an “amenity” or “community extra feature” (although it certainly will add to community amenities.) A good trail system becomes a necessary part of the transportation, recreation, and open space elements of the city’s Master Plan. A good trails system will be validated on its own merits and serves important functions such as:

a. Provides an alternative to automobile travel by improving access for
pedestrians and bicycles. By reducing auto trips, trails contribute to
reductions in congestion and air pollution.

b. Trails connect people and places. Trails should connect major origins with destinations: schools, parks, shopping areas, employment and high-density residential areas. Look for corridors that will likely be of most interest to the most people possible. Such a trail system can be fully integrated into the transportation plan, and gain from local support. Community and political support are of utmost importance in creating trails that not only can be built but also maintained well into the future.

c. Trails help preserve open space, and are corridors to public lands that are often isolated by development. Also, try to create interconnected trails – Look at trails as a system of small roads; if there will be more than one trail in the community, seek to connect them together into a comprehensive system, just as you would a road system. Also, look for ways to connect into the trails system of neighboring communities. Often funding sources require trails be integrated into regional trail systems, and interconnectivity is the best way to show that. Don’t create trails that are isolated and will tend to have limited usability and interest. “Trails to nowhere, from nowhere, get nowhere.” However, do not be afraid to build the system a piece at a time. Try to build the most important pieces first, the ones that can most nearly stand on their own for some time, and add additional pieces over time as funding becomes available, or as land becomes available. Select all possible routes that meet the needs identified above. Bring in the City Planner and Engineer to help with selections. He or she should have suggestions and can apply their planning skills and community knowledge in the trail selection process. Integrate the planner and engineer into the process, and help them see the importance of trails in the community. This will be vital later.

Step 6 Once the trail alignments are determined, get to work finding out who owns the properties along the route. Very often the city will have to negotiate easements across private land, or may have to buy portions of lots outright. This is often the most delicate and difficult part of the trail building process. Be prepared both for landowners eager to help, and others that are strongly opposed. Legal, written agreements from the property owners that allow easements, rights of way, or are purchase options, will have to be secured. This is one of the most important preliminary steps in the entire process
Step 7 Get rough estimates of the costs of building each trail. Include property acquisition costs and basic engineering and construction estimates. Again the City Planner and Engineer will be most useful here.
Step 8 Prioritize the trail routes. Decide which seem most vital and serve the greater community the best according to your criteria. Determine which routes are“ready to go” and reasonable in terms of cost and resources required, and community goals.
Step 9 Create a written plan outlining all of the above process – community needs and how trails will fulfill those needs, selection criteria, routes, and rough cost estimates.
Step 10

Get the trails plan mapped on paper. There are many resources available. Trails 101: How Do We Get Started Building Trails? (For information on mapping... click here.)

a. Utah City Public Works provides mapping for most of the trail systems in the City.
b. Mountainland AOG has resources available for mapping, ordinance writing,
and written plans. Once the project is ready to be built, we also can provide
project managers to shepherd the project through to completion.

Step 11 Complete the written and mapping portions of the trails plan. Have the plan reviewed by the Planning Commission for referral to the City Council for adoption. Work with the Council on incorporating the plan into the City General Plan. The City Planner and staff from Mountainland AOG can assist with this process.
Step 12 Encourage the city to adopt a Trail Subdivision Ordinance (sample policies start on page 4 of the Sample City Trail Plan ) or a strong trails element in ordinances aimed at preserving open space. A trail review ordinance, located in the “subdivision” title of a city’s code, can insure the preservation of a proposed trail route. Such an ordinance would require a developer to meet with the planning staff to interpret the Trails Master Plan and its relationship to the proposed development. Trails Ordinances may require, as a function of subdivision approval, that developers provide easements or other appropriate options that will provide necessary lands or funds for the planned trail.
Step 13 Submit the adopted trail plan to the Metropolitan Planning Organization - Mountainland Association of Governments. This is required by some of the State and Federal funding sources.
Step 14

Identify funding sources, and let that guide much of the process of selection. Without funding, no trails will be built. Mountainland AOG can provide assistance in finding and securing funding. Both state and federal matching fund grant programs award money yearly. The city or other group will have to come up with the remaining amount needed to build a trail. These sources include, but are not necessarily limited to:

1. Mountainland Association of Governments:
a. Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Funds (CMAQ)

2. Utah Department of Transportation:
a. Transportation Enhancements Program, TEA 21 federal matching grants

3. Utah Division of Parks and Recreation:
a. Riverway Enhancement Matching Grants Program
b. Non-Motorized Recreational Trails Matching Grants Program.

4. National Parks Service
a. National Recreational Trail Program


There are also many private funding sources that may be available, and these are generally without the strict requirements of federal or state funds. Many funding sources require concrete plans for implementation; the assigned city staff will need to be heavily involved in the applications process. This is where the city planner and engineer play a critical role. Mountainland Association of Governments can also provide funding search resources and grant-writers if needed.

Step 15 Preparations for implementation of a specific trail will include completion of preliminary feasibility and environmental studies, engineering and construction plans, cost estimates, etc. Often local staff may not have the resources to do this, and outside consultants or engineering firms are contracted. The costs for this should be included in the overall cost estimates for each trail.
Step 16 Assign one committee member to make sure all these items get done in a timely manner, and don’t allow anyone to drop the ball. Patience and persistence will pay off.
Step 17 Once the funding is in place, the engineering is complete, and all easements or right-of-ways are legal documents, it’s time to get down to building the trail. Good project management skills will come into play here. City staff should be directly involved, and/or assistance may be obtained from Mountainland AOG in the form of an assigned Project Manager.
Trails Related Websites
Bonneville Shoreline Trail
Ogden City Trails
Utah State Parks Division
Pedestrian and Bicycle Organizations
National Park Service
Rails to Trails Conservancy
American Trails
Trust for Public Lands
Federal Highways Administration - TEA 21
Return to Trails Toolbox