FAQ: Trail Graduate Programs

Are there any graduate programs that are focused on trail planning, development, and design?

by American Trails Staff

There are currently no graduate programs that are specifically focused on trail planning, development, and design. There are some courses that are offered at community/tech/junior colleges with a focus on technical skills.

Below are a few colleges and universities that offer trail-related programs that we know of:

Trinidad State Colorado offers a Trails Program. The program is modular with 4-day intensive courses that progress through different elements of trailbuilding. This is a new program, which will eventually lead to an Associate of Applied Science degree in Trail Management and Construction. Currently students may earn the Level I certificate by taking the courses offered in the spring and fall of 2021. This is an integrated program covering planning, design, construction, and maintenance of sustainable trails in a wide variety of terrains and ecosystems. Crew leadership, safety, project supervision, and contracting considerations are included in Level III along with heavy equipment operations and mechanized trail construction methods.

Please check the Trinidad State Colorado website for current courses.

West Virginia University's Sustainable Trails curriculum welcomes students from various fields who are interested in trails development, programming and management, as well as design. The curriculum covers:

  • Advocacy: benefits of trails, funding sources, fund-raising, planning for skills progression and shared-use
  • Design/build: site-responsive design, sustainability, construction materials/costs
  • Post-build: volunteer/community engagement, interpretation, and ongoing assessment/maintenance

The demand for sustainable trails has increased in recent decades, and outdoor recreation can be a major economic driver for communities. Knowledge of sustainable trails has also increased in recent decades. While there are professional organizations offering short trainings, this curriculum is both more in-depth and more accessible.

The graduate certificate program in Sustainable Trails Development provides a great synergy with local trail development and programming efforts, including WVU’s 2020 International Mountain Bicycling Association Trail Accelerator Grant. The Mon River Trails were inducted to the Rails to Trails Conservancy Rail-Trail Hall of Fame in 2020, Blue Ridge Outdoors proclaimed WVU the best large college for outdoor adventure in the southeast and Mid-Atlantic, and Morgantown was selected in 2021 as the pilot city for the Youth Cycling Coalition.

The extra flexibility of a graduate certificate program allows students to complete the program either on its own, or with a traditional graduate degree.

photo credit: Rockingham Community College

Duke Energy TRAILS at Rockingham Community College (RCC) in Wentworth, North Carolina is the first community college program of its kind in the United States. The program will benefit students who want to enter or are currently employed in the fields of outdoor recreation, outdoor education, or therapeutic recreation. While trail-building skills are the core focus, many other hands-on skills will be taught and certifications offered. Coursework will be structured within a framework of learning through community service and service-inspired leadership. TRAILS will begin as a Continuing Education program. In its third year, RCC will apply to the State Board of Community Colleges to approve an associate’s degree program. Industry professionals and four-year colleges and universities have already expressed interest and excitement for TRAILS, which will fill an existing skills training gap in outdoor-related industries.


Rockingham Community College will offer a new degree program starting in Fall 2021: Environmental Planning and Development. It focuses on skills essential to being successful in outdoor recreational asset design, construction, planning, business, and management.

The success of the existing Duke Energy Trail Recreation and Adventure Institute for Leadership and Service (TRAILS) continuing education program at RCC had demonstrated a need and a demand for more in-depth information and opportunities to expand skills in this field.

RCC is the first community college in the United States to pioneer this type of coursework and applied experience.

“This is a very unique offering, not just on campus, but in the state. It's really not like anything else out there that I'm aware of,” said Dr. Trevor Flanery, program director. “It is so diverse in the different aspects we will be studying. You have to have the environmental skills, an understanding of the communities you're working within, and an understanding of recreation and the building and maintaining of recreational assets and facilities.”

McDowell Technical Community College's Trail Construction and Sustainability Program offers a great opportunity for both the novice and professional. Basic courses offer a beginner level array of classes for individuals that wish to build and maintain trails as a hobby or for those that wish to move on to the advanced courses for career opportunities or advancement. The advanced courses help individuals develop the skills necessary to become a viable leader and create career opportunities in trail building, maintenance, and sustainability. In addition to the basic and advanced courses, students can gain specialized certifications in specific trail construction types such as hand-built trails, mechanized trails, and greenways. Specialized course series are offered in trail business and contracting. Students will also gain work-based learning credit through on-the job experience during basic and advanced course programs.

Additional Resources:

American Trails offers a training calendar for upcoming trail training, workshops, and conferences. Topics are related to trail building, planning, management, land protection, organization development, leadership, tools, GIS data, parks, bike/ped facilities, nonmotorized transportation, funding, and stewardship.

Many trail stewardship organizations and associations also offer trail training courses. Here are a few we found that might be of interest:

Fleming College Sustainable Trails Certificate
IMBA Trail Solutions Advanced Trail Building School
Northwest Trail Alliance Trail Sustainability Institute
Ontario Trails Council Trail Education Program
Pacific Crest Trails Assocation Trails Skills College
Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship

These resources are beneficial for anyone that has an interest in or is responsible for managing natural surface multiple-use trails. These trail skills will enhance the overall skill sets of staff from federal, state, and local government land management agencies; non-profit land conservancies; planning, parks and recreation, and maintenance departments; trail crew leaders, members, and volunteers.

Know of any graduate level programs or advanced degree/higher education trail programs? Share them with us at [email protected].

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