Development of Trails along Canals, Flood Channels, and other Waterways

Prepared by Darrow Vanderburgh-Wertz

Shared-use pathways along the banks of irrigation canals, flood channels, and other waterways can serve important recreational and transportation functions. The easy grade, scenic interest, and minimal road crossings make shared-use paths along waterways highly attractive as trails for recreation, transportation, and a healthy, active lifestyle, particularly in urbanized areas.

by Rails to Trails Conservancy

The linear, unbroken character of waterways provide opportunities for shared-use paths of significant length and importance. The 110-mile-long trail located on top of Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee in Florida is a prime example of a levee trail. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail follows an old canal path along the Potomac River for 184.5 miles and is a fabulous recreational resource for the region. In the more urban environment of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail, which runs along a cement-lined arroyo (wash), provides an important and direct pedestrian and bicyclist connection from densely populated residential neighborhoods into major commercial districts, schools, hospitals and other trails such as the Santa Fe Rail Trail. The Rio Hondo bicycle path in eastern Los Angeles County follows the Rio Hondo, a tributary of the Los Angeles River, and connects residents to schools, community centers, businesses, and regional trails on the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers.

There are also some common concerns that arise from cities, trail users, adjacent homeowners, and water districts, such as water security, public safety and maintenance costs. This paper discusses, in brief, the following preliminary considerations as well as strategies to address common concerns that arise in the process of developing a trail along a waterway:

  • Who owns the land
  • Developing an Agreement
  • Owner Use
  • Liability
  • Maintenance, Public Safety, and Other Considerations

Attached document published July 2011

About the Author


Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. RTC’s mission, and its value, is magnified in urban areas, where one mile of trail can completely redefine the livability of a community. Where trails are more than just recreational amenities, creating opportunities for active transportation and physical activity—improving our health and wellbeing—as they safely connect us to jobs, schools, businesses, parks, and cultural institutions in our own neighborhoods and beyond.

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