Trail Operation and Maintenance Requirements

From Feasibility Study for Various Rails to Trails Projects Within The County of Cumberland (June 29, 2010)

The County of Cumberland, NJ studied a series of railroad corridors for possible trail use including maintenance responsibilities. The Feasibility Study was written by Campbell Thomas & Co. of Philadelphia, PA.

1. Proposed agency responsibilities

The proposed trail network passes through twelve of fourteen municipalities in Cumberland County. More populous townships may be able to expand their parks maintenance programs to include the new trails; less populous jurisdictions are less able to assume maintenance responsibilities. A critical next step in the Trail implementation process is to clarify and formalize maintenance responsibilities for each trail segment.

Here are several possible alternatives to management the development of the different rail-trail in Cumberland. The solution for any particular segment may involve one or several of these approaches.

a. County and Local Municipality Resources: Cumberland already manages an extensive network of County roads. Since all of the potential trails examined “go somewhere,” they are eligible for transportation funding. Incorporating trails and side-paths into plans for the upkeep and improvement of County roads can make projects more attractive for funding. The expertise to design, manage and improve roads and trails clearly exists in the County. Similarly, several municipalities have parks. Multi-use funding which includes trails for both recreation and travel to and through the parks makes park funding more attractive to the funding sources. Here again, the design, management, and construction skills of these municipalities can include trail development.

b. Supplementing Existing Agency Resources with Private Resources: Large amounts of funding are available from private sources such as foundations and corporate programs. However, such sources rarely make contributions to governments and public agencies. One successful strategy is for a foundation to fund an appropriate non-profit to staff the management of trail and environmental projects. Sometimes this staff is assigned to work with the appropriate governmental agency.

c. Creating a Trail Authority: Some counties and other municipalities have created a trail authority to develop and manage trails. A good board and other strategies assure strong public involvement and support. An authority can seek the numerous sources of public funds available, and provide high-quality, long-term maintenance and management of trail, often in cooperation with local municipalities, non-profits, trail supporters and volunteers.

d. State and Federal Resources: Trails are often developed by state and federal agencies. Those parts of the trail system in Cumberland passing through such lands should be considered for such development and management as part of those resources.

e. Private Non-Profit Agency Development: Many trails have been developed, managed and maintained by Non-Profits as part of their conservation and/or health initiatives. This can be done successfully either along, or in partnership with other groups, agencies, and governments.

f. Volunteer and “Friends” Groups: Often part of non-profits, but not always, groups of “trail friends” and volunteers often plan, build and manage trails, particularly soft-surface and hiking trails. For multi-use trails, volunteers often work in collaboration with agencies for expensive items such as bridges and storm repair, while performing day-to-day maintenance and special improvement projects. Again, the mix of involvement will depend on the nature of any specific trail segment, and the strengths of any particular group or groups.

2. Overview and description

Successful operation will rely on a continued and regular program of maintenance of the trail and associated support facilities. A Maintenance and Management Program will not only ensure a quality recreational or travel experience for the trail user but is also an essential ingredient of a risk management plan for the trail operator. Sufficient manpower and resources must be devoted to a regular maintenance schedule in order to meet these goals.

Among the factors determining maintenance requirements are existing landscape character and the nature and quality of capital improvements.

Another key element of the maintenance and management system of the trail would revolve around communication and information that would allow trail users to provide feedback and report on issues concerning trail maintenance and safety issues. This component of maintenance would be facilitated through the establishment of a trail users’ organization as mentioned as well as through effective signage throughout the Trail providing users with information on who to contact regarding such matters. A thoughtfully designed and maintained web site could be effective in this regard.

The maintenance guidelines that follow are necessarily somewhat generalized, and will need to be re-evaluated at such a time when a detailed capital improvement program has been defined. The maintenance implications of trail improvements should be reviewed carefully when considering capital improvements. One particular area of concern, given the existing landscape conditions, is the problem of drainage and flooding that can quickly undermine pavement structures. Money saved during the trail development process may be spent many times over if inadequate design and development creates a greater than normal maintenance burden. Trail maintenance is a major program that is related to trail safety, attractiveness, and image. The trail operator risks liability for accidents, if maintenance is ignored or negligently executed.

It is anticipated that the operating agencies will develop management systems for their respective segments of the trail. It is recommended that consulting agreements for trail design services include a requirement that a detailed trail maintenance manual and schedule be provided.

The elements of this system should include:

• Inventory of the Trail and its related facilities.
• Setting of maintenance goals and standards for the quality of maintenance, hours of operation, etc.
• Developing the tasks necessary to achieve maintenance quality levels.
• Assigning the maintenance tasks to designated groups or individuals.
• Monitoring the quality and frequency of the work.
• Implementing a control system for tracking accomplishments and relevant costs.
• Evaluating the maintenance management program.

3. Table of maintenance tasks and operations

Important maintenance tasks that management agencies must consider are indicated in the following Major Maintenance Tasks as follows:

Mowing - (3-4 times annually) 4-foot min. wide each side of trail where applicable. Flail type mower best - less debris on trail.

Pruning - (Annually) Prune woody vegetation 4-feet back from sides of trail – 14-feet vertical clearance – remove invasive vines. Vegetation Management Program may reduce this task long term.

Removal of Trees/Limbs - (Annually) Evaluation/ removal of unhealthy or dead trees and limbs. Fallen trees may remain as access control and to minimize disturbance.

Signage - (periodically as required) Maintain directional and informational signs and Permanent signs.

Access Control - (periodically as required) Replace damaged access control devices. Estimated frequency: 10% annually due to vandalism.

Trail Surface on local roads - (periodically as required) Resurface based on municipal schedule.

Trail Surface on gravel road - (periodically as required) Repair surface damage from vehicles, erosion, etc. Based on municipal schedule.

Trail Surface, boardwalk - (periodically as required) Replace damaged areas. Spur trails only.

Drainage Structures - (Minimum - Annually) Clean inlets, keep swales clear of debris. Complete rehabilitation during construction would dramatically reduce necessity for this type of maintenance after storms.

Litter Pick Up - (Weekly or as required) Trailside-litter pickup. Access area litter pickup. Encourage continued user "carry-in, carry-out" policy.

Trash Collection - (Weekly) Removal of trash from receptacles at access areas. Problems with non-user trash. Some agencies do not have trash containers at access points for this reason.

Bridges Inspection - (Every 2 years) Maintenance of bridge to ensure structural integrity. Bridges associated with public roads are already on a regular inspection schedule Annually by state DOT, Municipal or County Engineer.

4. Law enforcement and safety

Trail managers should take necessary steps to provide both a safe trail for the users and to protect themselves from liability claims. Where possible, hazardous conditions and attractive nuisances should be identified and removed during the original construction of the trail. Those that cannot be removed should be fenced off and/or have warning signs posted.

If trail segments are opened in phases, as is recommended in this study, clear mention should be made at all trail entrances and in any printed/electronic material (especially trail signage, maps, guidebooks and pamphlets) that portions of the trail are still not yet fully developed nor open to the public and that users must exercise the necessary care when using the Trail.

An effective maintenance program is critical for trail safety. The maintenance program should provide for regular safety inspections. Proper tree trimming and vegetation management are an important part of the safety program. This includes trimming of vegetation to maintain adequate sight distance for traffic safety and crime prevention purposes.

Several individuals at public meetings expressed concern that conflicts might arise between trail usage and hunting. A program to encourage awareness by both hunters and trail users of the need for responsible usage is critical.

In addition to reducing trail hazards, documentation of trail maintenance activities is essential in combating possible liability claims. Through written records of good maintenance practices, the managing agencies will be able to protect themselves from liability claims. In terms of property ownership and liability, it should be noted that New Jersey’s recreational use laws largely protect landowners from liability related to recreational use of their properties as long as no fee is charged and the landowners uses due diligence to maintain the property and/or warn recreational users of any safety hazards.

With the ever-increasing use of cell phones by the general public, including trail users, aspects of security have changed in recent years. Users are very well prepared to report and locate questionable activity on or within trail corridors. User surveillance tends to deter potential criminal activity.

5. Trail facilities and orientation systems/markings

A trail marking and orientation system benefits both users and trail managers. Signs should be erected at all cross streets and highways, even expressways, identifying the name of the cross street. Similarly, town names should be posted where the trail enters a town. This system helps trail managers to coordinate maintenance activities. The trail marking system could also help save lives in the event that emergency services might be required.

6. Vegetation management

Effective vegetation management is a critical dimension of the maintenance program. Effective vegetation management is necessary to preserve and enhance the natural and scenic interest of the Trail. Effective vegetation management is an important component of trail safety. Adequate sight
distance along the trail should be maintained for crime prevention purposes. Hazardous tree limbs
and other obstructions should be promptly removed.

The following system-wide standards for vegetation management are proposed:

1. Mowing - Herbaceous material should be mown three to four times a year a minimum of 4-feet from the trail edge (where the trail adjoins meadows, roadways or grain fields. A flail type mower is recommended as rotary types blow the screenings, gravel and mulch (surfacing) off the trail.

2. Removal of Vegetation from Trail surfaces – In order to maintain the integrity of trail surfaces, invasive vegetation should be eradicated through very limited and selective application of herbicides.

3. Woody vegetation control - Trees and shrubs should be controlled by an annual mowing along the edges of the trail (where trail is adjacent to fields, meadows and managed grass areas). Removal of woody vegetation in this width should minimize the need for frequent mechanical or hand pruning to maintain adequate horizontal and vertical clearances. Selective removal or “limbing up” of trees should also be scheduled to maintain or create desirable views from trail. Trees should also be kept clear of all drainage structures, bridges and walls that may be subject to mechanical damage by tree roots.

4. Invasive Plant Species and Vegetation Control: Vegetation control should discourage poison ivy along the trail and the removal of invasive plant species such as Mile a Minute weed.

7. Maintenance costs

Maintenance costs generally range from $5,000 to $7,000/per mile/per year for similar trails. We recommend that the responsible agencies use a figure of $7,000 per mile to estimate maintenance costs during the first year after development. This figure can be evaluated at the end of the first year. This cost can be used for fundraising purposes as well as to solicit volunteer help for maintenance.

Many trail operators have been able to supplement their maintenance program by creating partnership agreements with local businesses, clubs and organizations. Formal cooperative agreements can be made with these partners that clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each party. Developing an effective maintenance management system is an on-going process.

Attached document published June 2010

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