When Greenways Go Brown

When flood PLAIN turns into flood WAY, trails are in trouble.

by American Trails Staff

The recent floods in Colorado remind us that our stream-side corridors are vulnerable. Yet in our urban and suburban areas, trails along rivers are the most popular pathways. How do we balance the cost and value of our greenways when they’re covered in brown mud?

It’s clear that manufactured steel bridges can take a direct hit and still survive intact. They may have to be retrieved from some distance downstream, however. How about trail surfaces? Crushed rock is extremely erodible, and asphalt is also susceptible to running water damage.

Concrete can withstand being submerged, as we have seen from decades of annual spring flooding along Denver’s greenways. However, severe undercutting of stream banks can totally wipe out a concrete trail, and then you have big slabs of heavy debris to dispose of.

It’s pretty clear that homes don’t belong in flood plains, but what about trails? Birds, fish, and muskrats– as well as bikers, skaters, and hikers– all love our greenway corridors. Many plants, like willows and cottonwoods, sprout up eagerly after a flood. And as Boulder County Parks and Open Space says, “We WILL be back!”

— Stuart Macdonald
American Trails Magazine and website editor

More Articles in this Category

The Nature of Trail Aesthetics

Trailshaping is a system of understanding in which simple, everyday forces shape (generate) the big picture, details, and nuances of all trails and all trail types, as well as context-specific trail planning, design, construction, maintenance, and management.

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado Restores State’s Flood and Fire-Damaged Trails

Particularly in the aftermath of disaster, volunteers are vital to the success of keeping public lands, parks, and trails open and well-maintained for generations to come.

Trail Etiquette When Mud is Present

Excess rain negatively impacted trail conditions and access to parks across the country. Flooded, muddy, impassable trails lingered for nearly four months, creating an impatient, ridged mindset in our perceived need to get on the trails. MUD… multiple, long stretches of quaggy, slippery mud with or without standing water were present longer than normal. We expect mud in the spring, but not for four months.

Horse Keeping

This guide provides practical management information to San Francisco Bay Area horse owners on what they can do to help protect the environment. Whether a horse owner has one animal or operates a boarding facility, all equestrians play an important role in assuring that our watersheds are healthy and our creeks clean. Because of increasing pressures from human activity, all potential sources of environmental pollution are under critical scrutiny. Pollution can come from either point sources (e.g., a specific manufacturing plant) or nonpoint sources (e.g., livestock throughout a ranch).