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 (RTC)


Canal Waterway Trails Report


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

Published July 01, 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.

More articles by this author

More Articles in this Category

Equestrian Etiquette - Protecting Trees and Park Structures

Responsible equestrians should actively protect trees and other park structures when out on the trail. Equine expert Lora Goerlich gives her take on this topic.

Guidelines for a Quality Trail Experience

In the context of mountain bike trails, excellence is realized when a trail design merges the desired outcomes and difficulty that a rider seeks with the setting in which the outcomes are realized.

Virginia’s Long-Distance Trail Network: Connecting Our Commonwealth

The purpose of this plan is to assess progress to-date and develop a strategy to connect local and regional systems into a statewide trail network reaching to all areas of the Commonwealth.

Making the Trail Visible and Visitor Ready: A Plan for the James River Segment

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail joined the National Trails System following designation by Congress in 2006. The trail helps visitors experience, envision, understand, and protect what the explorers and inhabitants of the region encountered 400 years ago.