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DCR Trails Guidelines and Best Practices Manual

The DCR’s Trails Program seeks to provide a safe, quality recreation experience for a diverse range of trail users while practicing sound stewardship of the Commonwealth’s natural and cultural resources. This “Trails Guidelines and Best Practices Manual” meets this responsibility by providing a consistent set of trail management policies, guidelines, procedures, and best practices in sustainable trail development.

by Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation


DCR Guidelines July 2019


DCR was created by the merger of two separate agencies. As such, different operations divisions have, in the past, undertaken trail design, development, management, and maintenance using differing standards. For example, Urban Parks, given their location in the Boston metropolitan region and the types of uses that they see, have never allowed motorized trail recreation. They are also not actively managed for forest products. Urban Parks tend to have a greater number of hard surfaced trails and may have experienced some different management issues, such as levels of trail use and vandalism. On the other hand, the State Parks, may have a larger percentage of natural surface trails, and lower levels of use. Some state parks allow various types of motorized trail use. Facilities designated as “Woodlands” are managed for forestry, and they have had to accommodate some different kinds of recreational uses such as hunting. In addition, these divisions operated and in some cases, continue to operate with different sets of regulations, with different sets of resources and under different management frameworks. The result, from the trails management point of view, is that a variety of trail designation, marking, and management standards are currently in place across the agency.

This can be confusing for users and staff alike. This document establishes a consistent set of trail guidelines and standards which DCR can apply across all of its State Parks Properties. However, these guidelines also provide flexibility that can accommodate different recreational settings, resources, and mandates.

DCR’s Division of Water Supply lands are primarily managed to provide clean water, and trails and recreational uses are secondary and restricted in some areas as defined by public access policies. It is important to note the guidelines, policies, procedure and regulations outlined in this manual are intended to guide trail design, development and management on State Parks properties, and may not reflect the policies, procedures or regulations on DCR Division of Water Supply Lands.

Published July 2019

About the Author


The Department of Conservation and Recreation is steward of one of the largest state parks systems in the country. Its 450,000 acres is made up of forests, parks, greenways, historic sites and landscapes, seashores, lakes, ponds, reservoirs and watersheds.

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