Old Trails, New Systems: Re-Imagining Existing Trail Networks

Are you ready to view old trail networks with fresh eyes?

by Peter Dolan, New Jersey Program Coordinator, New York - New Jersey Trail Conference, Joshua Osowski, Regional Park Superintendent

Many trail networks grow organically over the years – linear trails sprout connectors, spurs snake toward vistas, “social trails” are marked, and new trails are added to provide loop options. With enough time, even trail systems that are fastidiously maintained on the ground can look confusing on a map. When people are getting lost and trails aren’t meeting hiker needs, what can you do?

This presentation uses examples of real-world trail networks that were re-imagined with simple re-blazing and strategic use of new connectors to provide radically improved user experiences. Undertaking such projects requires the involvement of land managers, nonprofit partners, volunteers, and the input of emergency first responders… but when a tangled mess of trails evolves into an elegant system of stacked loops, the result is worth it.

After walking through the projects described in this presentation, the audience will be ready to view old trail networks with fresh eyes.

Learning Objectives:
  • Identify trail networks with potential to be reconfigured via selective re-blazing and trail construction into user-friendly loop systems based on both objective criteria such as lost hiker counts and subjective criteria such as descriptions of recommended hike routes.
  • Layout and design new trail networks as elegantly as possible by focusing on re-blazing existing routes and limiting new construction to short, sustainable connector trails.
  • Persuade land managers and partner organizations of the value of such endeavors and engage them equipped to tackle common questions about implementation.

About the Authors

Peter Dolan has served as the New Jersey Program Coordinator at the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference since 2013. After graduating from Bucknell University and Australia’s James Cook University with a degree in field zoology, he held a variety of outdoor positions – educator in the San Bernardino mountains of California, river guide in Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters, and full-time trail builder in both Arizona and New York State. Along the way he has spent years working on expanding outdoor opportunities for people with physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities as well as veterans, adjudicated youth, and people experiencing the outdoors for the first time. In his current role he supports the Trail Conference’s New Jersey volunteers and the park partners they work with, covering over 40 land management units and 740 linear trail miles.

Joshua L. Osowski is a Regional Park Superintendent with the New Jersey State Park Service. Throughout his career in state government, Josh has done much to improve the parks he has worked at, and some of these include, implementing change management at Liberty State Park, being an advocate for public service, and increasing the use of collaboration to provide the services people need. He believes the best way to improve government is by professionalizing its workers and encouraging them to reach out to and work with the public they serve. Josh recently received a Ph.D. from Rutgers University - Newark, and his research interests include improving collaboration and governmental outcomes. He is the president of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration. Josh is also an avid lover of the outdoors and has thru-hiked the entire 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail.

More articles in this category

Benchmarking Bike Networks

posted Apr 17, 2024

This report summarizes guidance and best practices to create safer bicycle facilities and connect them into networks that allow more people to safely bike to more places within and throughout communities.

Setting Speed Limits for Health and Safety

posted Apr 17, 2024

This mini-report on setting speed limits shows the current framework for speed limit policies through a review of state laws that set speed limits.

Winter Recreation Planning

posted Nov 14, 2023

These case studies reveal a number of lessons learned that will be valuable in future winter travel management planning efforts.


posted Feb 14, 2023

Horses are prey animals and naturally can be afraid of unfamiliar people and objects. Horses have natural "flight“ survival instincts and prefer to move their feet towards an exit route. Therefore, people with horses should pass at a walk while other trail users remain STOPPED until passed.

646 views • posted 06/05/2019