Planning trails for Hidden Valley Park Natural Area

A planning team comprised of the project partners and local residents was formed to address an unplanned system of trails and off-road vehicle routes in the Kansas City open space park.

by Jimmi Lossing, Landscape Architect, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Hidden Valley Park Natural Area is primarily oak-hickory forest, following a small creek that flows through a deep ravine. The ravine’s deep loess soils and high-quality hardwood forest resulted in 82 acres of the park’s 142 acre natural area being designated a Missouri Natural Area by the State of Missouri Natural Areas Coordinating Committee in 1978. This natural jewel in the midst of Kansas City is handily located near residential areas and roadways – yet once you enter the area you are surrounded by its natural beauty.

An unplanned system of trails and off-road vehicle routes developed over time in this unique park. In many cases these trails created severe erosion problems, threatening the unique plant species and cultural resources of the Natural Area.

In 2006, Kansas City Parks Department and its project partners, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Kansas City Wildlands, and the Thomas Hart Benton Group of the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club initiated a project to protect and conserve the park’s natural resources. The partners were particularly concerned about eroding foot trails and severe erosion caused by unauthorized off-road vehicle use in the park. Goals for a new trail system included improving public access, creating sustainable trails, involving volunteers in trail construction and maintenance, and protecting natural and cultural resources.

Grade reversal diagram from Hidden Valley Park Natural Area Trail Design and Construction Erosion Mitigation Manual

Grade reversal diagram from Hidden Valley Park Natural Area Trail Design and Construction Erosion Mitigation Manual

Big Muddy Workshop, Inc., was selected through a nationwide search process, to develop a master plan for the natural area, including a news, sustainable trail system, and to develop a manual to guide park staff and volunteers’ trail construction efforts. A planning team comprised of the project partners and local residents was formed to assist Big Muddy in developing the master plan. Public input was obtained through a series of open houses.

While the desire to provide sustainable trails and correct existing erosion problems were expressed early in the process, two important elements developed as the plan evolved: First, was to provide accessible trails into the site’s significant natural areas; Second, to develop trail construction approaches that would enable volunteers to construct and maintain the trail system, outlined in a manual tailored to Hidden Valley Park.

Two accessible surface trails will allow all visitors to enjoy the prairie and forest plant communities. The trail alignment will have a slope of 5% or less, with benches spaced along the trail for resting and to encourage observation. Persons with more time and vigor can hike the sustainable main trail with a natural soil surface. At key locations on the main trail, bridges, boardwalks and stairs will be used to provide safe access and protect sensitive areas from foot traffic.

Developing a trail system that allowed volunteer participation in the construction and maintenance of the trail is an important component of the Hidden Valley Park Natural Area project. The partner organizations had several reasons for making this element key to the project, including building community commitment to the park area and stretching the City’s construction dollars by employing volunteer labor wherever possible. To facilitate volunteerism, Big Muddy developed the Hidden Valley Park Natural Area Trail Design and Construction Erosion Mitigation Manual. The manual was developed for use by park staff and volunteers, guiding them in trail construction efforts.

Big Muddy staff attended International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) trail design training, to learn the latest techniques in sustainable trail design and building. IMBA and US Forest Service trail manuals were incorporated into the design standards for the trail and referenced in the construction manual. Big Muddy adapted these techniques to Hidden Valley’s unique features and highly erosive loess soils.

The manual outlines the trail system goals and design guidelines, hiking trail design guidelines, and erosion control strategies. It provides photographs, illustrations, text and references to aid park staff and volunteers in planning the segments of trail to be constructed and the techniques to be employed.

To ensure that Kansas City parks staff was knowledgeable on how to direct volunteers in trail construction, Big Muddy conducted a “Train-the-Trainers” session for park staff and volunteer leaders. The group learned how to clear the trail corridor, construct full bench trails including grade reversals when necessary, and install facines and debris dams to correct eroded areas. The Workshop designed and fabricated a trail template to aid volunteers in building the trail to the desired width and correct trail surface cross-slope.

Kansas City Parks & Recreation has held several trail building events since the initial training session. In October 2007, 250 volunteers for VLM, Inc. donated one work day to clear and build trail. Additional trail days were held in November 2007 and June 2008, drawing another 200 volunteers to clear, repair and expand the trail system.

About the Author

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is a cabinet-level agency with a Secretary appointed by the Governor.

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