FAQ: Vegetation under boardwalks

Avoiding plant growth

by American Trails Staff

October 07, 2011

Boardwalk at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Vero Beach, FL; photo courtesy USFWS

Wetlands are of great interest to students, teachers, scientists, and the general public, but few individuals venture into them due to the dense vegetation, standing water and deep organic soils. A few enter with canoes or waders. An alternative and more convenient means of access—boardwalks and trails—are needed by the rest.

Most people don't worry about vegetation under boardwalks. Every other kind of trail has a bigger impact on drainage, plants, etc.

Since there isn't much information on vegetation under boardwalks, here's a few tips for helping to reduce impact on vegetation you are trying to preserve:

Reducing impacts to vegetation and wildlife

How can the impacts of boardwalks and trails upon vegetation and wildlife be reduced? The Association of State Wetland Mangers, Inc. guide Constructing Wetland Boardwalks and Trails recommends a variety of measures for reducing impacts:

  • Trails and boardwalks should be located in less sensitive areas of a wetland and adjacent lands, away from rare or endangered vegetation and wildlife. Trails and boardwalks often can be routed around large trees so that large trees do not need to be cut.
  • Care should be taken to maintain natural wetland hydrology including fluctuations of water levels important to wildlife in any construction.
  • Natural materials should be used (e.g. wood for boardwalks, woodchips for trails).
  • Designs and colors should be used which blend with natural scenery (e.g., natural wood colors).
  • Construction may be able to take place in the winter which reduces impacts on nesting or feeding wildlife.
  • Once a boardwalk or trail is constructed, limitations can be placed on the months and hours of access to minimize impacts upon nesting birds and other wildlife (where this is necessary).
  • Litter containers can be provided at convenient locations to reduce littering.

Helpful resources

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's (FWS) manages a full range of habitat types – wetlands; prairies; coastal and marine areas; temperate, tundra and boreal forests. Managing these habitats is a complex web of controlling or eradicating invasive species, using fire in a prescribed manner, assuring adequate water resources, and assessing external threats like development or contamination. Refuge managers in your state may have a lot of experience with boardwalk design as well as the trade-offs between public access, environmental education, and impacts. A full list of refuges is available on the FWS website.

Each state has a trails program typically offered through the state's State Parks Division or Parks and Wildlife. The trails administrator may also be aware of similar projects that may have been funded or visited within your state. Our Resources by State page explores training, articles, organization, and authors by state.

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