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Trails and Resilience: Review of the Role of Trails in Climate Resilience and Emergency Response

Trails are often overlooked as elements of essential infrastructure for a resilient transportation system.1 In emergencies where other transportation facilities are shut down or inaccessible, people may use trails to get where they need to go.

by Federal Highway Administration


Fhwahep23017


Trails are often overlooked as elements of essential infrastructure for a resilient transportation system. In emergencies where other transportation facilities are shut down or inaccessible, people may use trails to get where they need to go. Trails can also provide critical access in emergencies for people without access to a car or transit service. Trails for both motorized and nonmotorized use can provide access for search and rescue, fighting wildfires, or other emergency response operations. The increase in trail use during the COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of trails for improving health and wellbeing during public health emergencies.

At the same time, many trails are located along rivers, in coastal areas, in forests, or along slopes, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to impacts from climate change and extreme weather, such as floods, wildfires, and erosion. To better respond to such impacts, trails can be designed, planned, and maintained to be resilient to natural hazards. Designing trails to be resilient to climate change has many benefits, including lower maintenance and repair costs and better access during emergencies and after severe weather. Trails can also enhance the resilience of surrounding communities by providing ecosystem services (e.g., stormwater management). Many trail designers note that well- designed, sustainably built trails are also more accessible for people with disabilities.

Published March 2023

About the Author


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), part of the US Department of Transportation, provides expertise, resources, and information to improve the nation's highway system and its intermodal connections. The Federal-Aid Highway Program provides financial assistance to the States to construct and improve the National Highway System, other roads, bridges, and trails.

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