Trail Design & Maintenance

For trails to be considered “sustainable” they must meet these recreational needs while providing adequate protection to the environment while minimizing trail maintenance.

by Jeffrey Marion, Ph.D., Federal Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey


JM Trail Maintenance Guidance


Trails act as the primary transportation network for roadless portions of protected natural areas. They encourage the public to get out and enjoy natural settings without harming them. For trails to be considered “sustainable” they must meet these recreational needs while providing adequate protection to the environment while minimizing trail maintenance. Poorly designed trails require frequent maintenance and are often susceptible to excessive erosion, muddiness, and tread widening. Poorly designed trails are also less enjoyable and less safe to hike due to these impacts and to steep grades.

Published July 2022

About the Author

Jeff Marion is a Federal Scientist with the US Geological Survey, and is based out of Virginia Tech as an Adjunct Professor. His research specialty is Recreation Ecology, in which he investigates the environmental impacts of visitor use in protected natural areas, primarily national parks. His research has focused on visitor impacts to trails and campsites and the development of sustainable “Best Management Practices.” He was a founding member of the Leave No Trace Board of Directors, chaired the committee that guided development of the Leave No Trace principles and practices, and authored the LNT Center’s official book “Leave No Trace in the Outdoors.”

Contact: [email protected]

More articles by this author

More Articles in this Category

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail

The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is a universally accessible trail. It was presented with the 2014 Paul Winske Access Award by the Stavros Center for Independent Living.

Tools for Trails: Measuring and Surveying Tools

Before trail builders start digging, they first have to lay the trail, flag the line, and more to ensure a grade that not only matches the terrain but also is well throughout to prevent erosion.

GEOWEB® Geocells Repairs Storm-Damaged Recreational Trails Along Maine’s Coastline

GEOWEB® panels are used to reconstruct Kittery Point's walking trail and maintenance road.

Trail Tools: Grubbing Tools

Let’s talk about grubbing and raking tools! You might have heard the term grubbing before, but if you’re new to trail building, it may be unfamiliar. Grubbing is when you are removing earth and topsoil. Basically digging into the first while removing vegetation in the process. Trail builders may also call this process hogging.