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Maximizing Trail Budgets through Competitive Bidding

Opportunities for optimizing your trail funding through a fair and competitive bidding process.

By Tone Boone, Principal, Arrowhead Trails, Inc.
and Cuatro Hundley, Principal, Anasazi Trails, Inc.

"Professionally planned and constructed trail systems can be one of the most effective ways for land managers to enhance their resource protection and visitor services."

As the recreational trail industry evolves, land managers, land owners and developers are realizing the advantages of planning and managing sustainable trail systems. Trail companies with innovative, cutting-edge trail technologies are flourishing and the benefits of trails are becoming more universally understood. For many of us, sustainability of our trails and sustainability of our communities are now inseparable concepts in our "quality of life" mantra.

This article discusses how, what, where, when and why to put your trail projects out to bid. It covers the different steps and information you may need for the bidding process as well as discusses opportunities for optimizing your trail funding through a fair and competitive bidding process.

photo of building rock wall

Clear project requirements are essential to effective bidding


Professionally planned and constructed trail systems can be one of the most effective ways for land managers to enhance their natural/cultural resource protection and visitor services. They are also one of the most effective and increasingly common ways for developers to enhance real estate values.

Whether your vision is for a technical 24" wide, singletrack trail for mountain bikers and runners or a 5 wide, crushed stone surface trail that meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines; professionally designed and constructed trails minimize costs, headaches, staff time, liability and long-term maintenance, while enhancing the trail experience and trail program success stories.

Before you put a trail project out to bid make sure you have adequate funding and you or your employer legally own the land or have a legal easement. If you do not meet these initial criteria you should refrain from starting the bid process until these issues are addressed.

Essential contract solicitation and project information to share with your potential bidders should include: primary contact person, email, phone number(s), solicitation name & number, agency/organization/company, mailing address, city, state, zip code, and country.

photo of group talking on trails

Be prepared to walk, ride, or drive the length of the project with prospective bidders


Write a synopsis or project description including the type of project and the scope of work; define major parameters such as length, width, tread material, location, access, existing/desired uses, constraints, and any other trail related structures (bridges/shelters/benches/technical trail features/jump park/pump track, etc.)

Describe the area in detail. Information should include parameters to aid in determining constructability such as topography, percent side slopes, soil types, vegetation, presence and type of rock, presence of water, elevation gain, rainfall averages, and other climatic concerns. It is helpful to include maps or satellite photographs of the project location in the bid package.

Provide clear and concise trail specifications and drawings. These are available from numerous agencies and non-profit organizations on-line. One of the most commonly used standards is the US Forest Service National Trail Drawings and Specifications. However, the most innovative and colorful one is from the International Mountain Bicycling Association. It is Trail Solutions: IMBA's Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack. A condensed version of trail specifications/drawings and minimum criteria for trails can also be found on the Arrowhead Trails website.

photo of trail building machine

Use of trail-building machinery can ensure a cost-effective project


Project constraints should be discussed up front and include: hand-built or machine-built methods, allowable construction equipment and its access, archaeological resources, environmental or man-made hazards and safety concerns, site access restrictions, threatened and/or endangered species, critical wildlife habitats, wetlands/riparian areas, geologically unstable soils, and any other pertinent issues to consider.

Providing a contract price range, bonding requirements, insurance requirements, bid surety, and an example contract has become increasingly common in our industry, especially within the government sector. However, these items are not mandatory and less common in the private sector. If you use a generic "big agency contract", please review it for its appropriateness to trail projects, since trails require little or no purchased building materials, and trails rarely require excavation, trenching or tunneling. Contracts generally fall into three broad categories; fixed price or lump sum contracts, cost reimbursable contracts, and unit price contracts. Selecting your contract type should be considered carefully as each presents its own set of risks to each party.

Bonding usually runs a bidder 5-10% of the total contract price. Adequate insurance is often required by state laws and typically includes: $1M general liability and $1M commercial automobile coverage, workers compensation insurance, and usually requires the agency/organization to be listed as an additional insured.

Know all the applicable laws, regulations and permit procedures in your area. They may range from absolutely nothing to requiring trailbuilders to have a state-specific general contractors license (with tests) that costs almost $1000. At what dollar amount are you required to put projects out to bid? Do you need a grading permit? Will the contractor be required to pay state taxes? Are trail contractors required to have a state contractors license? All these types of questions should be answered prior to putting your trail project out to bid.

Know your property boundaries and clearly mark them! If you do not know the actual legal boundaries of your project pay for a legal survey before you start any design and construction efforts. Use a GPS during the design process to assist you in staying within your legal boundaries. Asking an adjacent landowner for permission after you have constructed a trail across their property is embarrassing at the least, and can be extremely costly some of the time.

Do you have the funds, and most importantly are they adequate for accomplishing your desired scope of work? Trail construction in the Southern Rockies averages $15,000/mile, so thinking a $25K budget is adequate for five miles of planned trail construction through poison ivy and rock is not realistic. If you go through the bidding process and then realize you can't afford the trail project and can't do it, it will have been time and money wasted for all parties.

Always schedule an on-site pre-bid meeting for prospective bidders, at a specific written time and location. Be prepared to walk, ride, and/or drive the entire length of the project with the bidders and be suspect of any bidders that do not complete the bid walk, especially if they are the cheapest bid, and they say "It looks real easy." Most of our clients, even in the government sector, are seeking the "best value" not the "cheapest bid."

Mandatory pre-bid meetings are usually more efficient than showing individual bidders the project at several different times. The meeting allows questions and answers to be heard by the entire group on site and allows bidders and agencies to meet in person. Whether mandatory or not, all follow-up questions and answers generated during the pre-bid meeting should be written and distributed to all bidders to eliminate any concerns of competitive disadvantage or unfairness during the bidding process.

Historically, government agencies advertised projects via snail mail to their bidder's list or in the newspaper. With FedBizOpps and other on-line bidding services available on the internet, federal, state, county, and municipal governments have moved to more efficient, electronic methods. However, many non-governmental agencies and organizations may still advertise in newspapers, especially their local ones.

Newspapers help get the word out to contractors and they meet your legal bid advertising requirements, but they seldom reach a group of sixty professional trail contractors. Too many times the winning bidder is a landscaping company or general construction contractor with little or no trail experience and no knowledge of sustainable trail design and construction principles, often resulting in visitor disappointment and ultimately increased soil erosion and maintenance costs.

Timing of your project is key to ensuring your trail project succeeds. Don't wait until the late October to put your trail project out to bid if it will be covered with snow from November until April. If you do, you should plan on allowing an extension until the next spring. Remember, the most successful trailbuilders plan projects a minimum of 3-6 months in advance, and further out when possible.

Think BIG! Professional trailbuilders frequently design and build 60-70 miles in a single season with today's tools and specialized equipment. So, don't think that ten or twenty miles of sustainable, shared-used, stacked loop trail system will take years... its completion is probably just a couple of months away from that Notice to Proceed.

The Professional Trail Builders Association (PTBA) is the largest group of professional trail contractors in the world, each operating independently and competitively with each other. Our 60+ members have completed work in all 50 states and nineteen countries spanning five continents including: Canada, Mexico, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, Philippines, Singapore, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Croatia, Israel, Grand Caymen, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Australia/Tasmania.

One of the free, easiest and most effective ways to advertise your trail project is to simply visit and submit your trail contract or project information to all of PTBA's member contractors. RFPs (Requests For Proposals) or RFQs (Requests for Quotes) are preferred but not mandatory, considering some clients may be seeking a consultant to help with the design and planning phase, so trails can be put out to bid, the following season.

Tony Boone and Cuatro Hundley have 25 years of trail planning, design, and construction experience. Arrowhead Trails has designed and built 400 miles of sustainable, shared-use, natural surface trails in fifteen years. Anasazi Trails is currently contracted with New Mexico State Parks for a corridor study and planning of 240+ miles of the proposed Rio Grande River Trail. Please visit our websites at and

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