Operations, Maintenance, and Stewardship 101
and stewardship are essential to the safe use, enjoyment, and long-term
success of any trail.
By Robert Searns
It's not as glamorous as building the trail. There is no ribbon cutting for a maintenance program and seldom does upkeep win a national award. Yet, operations, maintenance, and stewardship are essential to the safe use, enjoyment, and long-term success of any trail. Increasingly, planners and elected officials want to see a workable O & M plan. They want to know the cost and how it will be funded.
Indeed, an excellent project concept may die on the vine if these challenges are not adequately addressed. Here is an outline of the key elements of this vital aspect of trail management:
Operations and Maintenance Defined
Operations and Maintenance refers to the day-to-day upkeep as well as the smooth and safe functioning of a trail, greenway or trail/greenway system. The term Stewardship refers to long-term care and oversight of the trail resource. This is essential to assure it will be sustained as a quality component of the community infrastructure and a good neighbor to adjacent properties and surrounding natural environment. Stewardship also includes building community support and advocacy so the integrity of the trail or greenway will not be compromised in the future.
Routine Maintenance refers to the day-to-day regimen of litter pick-up, trash and debris removal, weed and dust control; trail sweeping, sign replacement, tree and shrub trimming and other regularly scheduled activities. Routine maintenance also includes minor repairs and replacements such as fixing cracks and potholes or repairing a broken handrail.
Remedial Maintenance refers to correcting significant defects as well as repairing, replacing, or restoring major components that have been destroyed, damaged, or significantly deteriorated during the life of the project. Minor repairs such as repainting, seal coating asphalt pavement, or replacing signs may occur on a five to ten-year cycle. Major reconstruction items might occur over a longer period up to 100 years or more or after an event such as a flood. Other examples include stabilization of a severely eroded hillside, repaving a trail surface, or replacing a bridge. Remedial maintenance should be a consideration in formulating a long-term capital improvement plan, though budgeting could be on an individual and as-needed or anticipated basis.
A quality O & M program addresses specific required tasks and begins with sound design, durable components, and a comprehensive management plan. The responsible officials and entities should embrace the plan at the beginning.
Programs and protocols that will endure should be instituted, including training of field and supervisory people. In addition, community groups, residents, business owners, developers and other stakeholders should be engaged in the long-term stewardship effort.
Guiding Principles for a Successful Program
The following guiding principles will help assure preservation of a first class system:
- Good maintenance begins with sound planning and design
- Foremost, protect life, property, and the environment.
- Promote and maintain a quality outdoor recreation experience.
- Develop a management plan that is reviewed and updated annually with tasks, operational policies, standards, and routine and remedial maintenance goals.
- Maintain quality control and conduct regular inspection.
- Include field crews, police and fire/rescue personnel in both the design review and on-going management process.
- Maintain an effective, responsive public feedback system and promote public participation.
- Be a good neighbor to adjacent properties.
An effective O & M plan should include the following areas:
Following are some of the typical O & M Activities for various types of trail amenities:
User Safety and Risk Management
User safety is critical to trail design, operations and management. Trail planners and managers should implement a safety program that includes: systematic risk management assessment, inter-agency design review for all proposed improvements and accident and crime reporting. In addition to department managers, planners, designers and engineers, law enforcement, fire/rescue and field maintenance personnel should be consulted in the design and review process.
Important steps in this process include:
Several steps can be effective on organizing leadership and effective administration of an O & M program including:
- Preparing and distributing an O & M manual with a specific listing of all functions, frequency of tasks, quality standards, and estimated unit costs and/or staffing requirements. This should be translated into an annual budget that anticipates build-out in five-year increments.
- The program should be goal-oriented and mission-focused based on the written and agreed to policies and guidelines.
- A lead individual or committee should be identified to serve as liaison/advocate for the system. This lead person should also work cooperatively with the respective department and agency heads and staff to assure a coordinated effort amongst all of the participants.
- Allocate discrete and adequate funding based on the written O & M program manual and annual budget.
- The program must be cost-effective with sustainable funding sources identified.
- Key participants in the O & M program should meet at least twice a year to assess performance for the past season and set direction, priorities, and funding needs for the upcoming season.
- Several agencies or jurisdictions may be involved in the management. Greenway systems often including neighboring communities or infrastructure partners such as a stormwater management agency or a highway department. An interagency maintenance agreement may be based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other agreement that covers responsibilities, sharing of equipment, standards of performance, and cost sharing if applicable.
O & M costs and revenue
O & M costs can vary substantially depending on the facility, climate, and complexity of the system. For urban trail systems an annual per-mile cost might run from $2500 to $10,000.
Different sources of revenue may be identified including:
While the annual O & M costs may seem intimidating, it is important to note that the return to the community in terms of recreational benefits, health and fitness. and economic development have been shown through a number of studies nationwide to be multi-fold.
A proper O & M program will reduce long-term costs by extending the life of trails and trail components, and it will win the support of the residents, homeowners, and businesses. A community with trails and greenways needs to invest over the long term in a quality O & M program. Indeed, a community, state or nation cannot afford to not make that investment.
Robert Searns is a principal of Greenway Team, Inc., and works with communities nationwide on greenways, trails, and outdoor resource conservation.
November 28, 2005
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Updated March 16, 2007