Planning ATV Trails
first step in planning an ATV trail is identifying specific
needs. Is there a close-bypopular Federal, State or Municipal
park or forest area to which your club members now trailer
their machines? Is there a trail system operated by an ATV
club in an adjoining town? Is there a need for short, close-in
trails linking different places in your club area.
The preceding are but a few examples of the differing purposes
ATV trails can serve. As you can see from the nature of these
questions, some trails will be designed to bring persons to
a desired location, just as a highway leads from your home
to a store. Other trails will be designed to incorporate a
single experience; ATV riding. Good trail systems feature
a blend of both types of trails. Loop trails are desirable
When your club has identified the purpose for your trails,
you should begin the process of corridor identification during
the spring or early summer, establishing a broad path running
from your beginning point to your intended destination, or
through the general areas you wish to include if your trail
is a loop and/or has no planned destination.
Next, your club should obtain large-scale topographical
maps of the proposed areas. Such maps are available through
the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior, Reston,
VA 22092 and local distributors which are usually sporting
Upon receipt of maps, update roads and new developments
to the best of your ability within your corridors.
From the maps, try to identify a path utilizing existing
cleared areas, logging roads, abandoned railroad rights-of-way,
abandoned roadways, woods roads and other recreational trails.
On the other hand, try to avoid highway crossings, bodies
of water, tree plantations, sensitive wildlife areas (including
deer yards), heavily populated and/or intensively used areas,
and areas with precipitous (steeply inclined) terrain. Be
sensitive to the impact of noise and nighttime activities
on nearby residences, wildlife, domestic animals etc. Remember
we don't want to disturb people and provoke conflicts! Locate
trails away from potential problems!
Once you have identified one or more possible paths for
your trail, conduct a field examination, walking the path
and noting the extent of clearing work, grading, and other
construction which would be required. (Note: Never do any
work before receiving permission of the landowners.) This
is also the time to consider the maintenance implications
of any particular routing. If one or more paths continue to
look feasible, you should begin identifying the landowners
over whose property the trail passes. If these trails are
not feasible because of landownership, return to the maps
and begin examining alternative routes: perhaps a longer,
less direct corridor, for example.
Identification of landowners can be accomplished through
local governmental tax maps. More specific information on
this subject should be available from your town, city or county
tax officials and/or at your county courthouse. When you have
obtained the names of property owners, plan to visit each
personally. Bring your maps and an approved land use permit
form. Emphasize that your request is for a single corridor
across their lands. In many instances, you will quickly obtain
the necessary permission. However, be prepared to revise your
trail around landowners unwilling to permit land use. Such
refusals may entail returning to both topographical and tax
maps for alternate route selections.
Remember that your club may be dealing with these land-owners
year after year. Thus, be sure you understand each other completely,
and put all agreements in writing, whether they concern sign
mounting and removal or bridge and facility construction.
Some clubs have found that joint meetings with several of
the involved landowners are a productive tool to speed the
process of gaining permissions to use land. In all cases,
be prepared to compromise, and be considerate of the landowners'
property rights. Your trail need not detract from the beauty
and value of their property, and you must take steps to insure
that it indeed does not. You may want to volunteer time to
help landowners in return for permission to use their property.
Throughout this process, utilize the resources of the Bureau
of Parks and Recreation ATV program. Keep the Bureau posted
on your activities. This becomes especially important if your
path includes public lands of any type. It is often easier
to obtain permission to use public lands if responsible public
officials are acting as your advocates.
Use of local planning and recreation commissions can sometimes
be used as an aid in developing a trail. Planners from local
and regional commissions are often able to extend advice and
guidance concerning development of trails and land use. Involvement
with these professional planners can provide cooperation from
local and/or municipal planners, which will make your trail
planning more precise.
Certain specialized land corridors present special opportunities
to the ATV trail developer. Examples of these special lands
- abandoned railroad rights-of-way
- utility rights-of-way
- highway corridors
To maximize opportunities for obtaining the use of these
lands, however, special techniques must be developed. In addition,
relevant Federal, State and local programs in these areas
must be used. For example, railroad rights-of way abandonment
proceedings have occurred and are occurring in Maine. Established
and graded rights-of-way of this nature should be of great
interest to ATV trail developers.
Moreover, these corridors can be well suited for all- season
recreational use by careful planning for compatible activities.
Obtaining these corridors for ATV trail use is, however,
no quick and easy job. The formal abandonment procedure requires
an extensive review by the Interstate Commerce Commission
of the nature of service and available alternative uses of
the corridor. The process entails public hearings as well
as environmental impact statements where necessary. Notification
of the commencement of these proceedings is given in the U.S.
Federal Register, as well as local newspapers.
Utility corridors of interest to trail builders are:
- gas and oil pipelines;
- power transmission lines;
- municipal water supply pipelines; and
- waste water trunklines.
In these cases, contact responsible club officials should
contact those utility officials charged with land management.
Just as with all the land managers and landowners, the trail
builders must keep in mind that their chances for successful
negotiations are enhanced if they can avoid entangling the
potential lessor with additional responsibilities. (NOTE:
Not all of these corridors are owned by the Utility Companies,
many are just easements, so you need to get the individual
landowners permission as well.) Remember that as landowners
they have legitimate concerns and are concerned about protecting
themselves. For this reason, club liability insurance is often
Lands within the highway corridor, but outside the actual
roadway, are still another attractive option. Major highways
especially, often have a considerable amount of land adjoining
the road for aesthetic purposes, potential expansion, or for
use as buffer zones. By incorporating plans for a recreational
trail in the early stages of highway design and construction,
trail development cost can be held to a bare minimum. Land
acquisition costs and initial grading costs are minimized.
Successful trail development of this nature requires a great
deal of background work by club officials. Responsible Federal,
State and County highway officials must be convinced of the
desirability of this concept. Only then can the inclusion
of recreational trails in initial highway planning be assured.