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

How Permeable Pavers Make a Difference

Permeable Pavers provide stable, low-impact pathway through Rookery Bay Research Reserve.

Environmental Impacts from Mtn Bicycles, Electric Mtn Bicycles, & Motorcycles

The emergence of electric bicycles, commonly known as e-bikes, is a rapidly growing component of the bicycle market in the US. As a transportation option, they represent an opportunity to reduce vehicle use and emissions, as well as the physical barriers to cycling. For use on trails, they present similar opportunities to reduce barriers to cycling but, as a new use, present new challenges for trail management.

Sustainable Trail Development

What is a sustainable trail? Building a sustainable trail system takes into account many factors. Most importantly, a sustainable trail should have as little impact to the environment as possible; this is accomplished through proper trail planning, design, construction and maintenance. A properly built trail will last for generations to come with little maintenance needed and will blend into the natural surroundings.

Preventative Maintenance for Recreational Trails

The growth in recreational trails owned by the State, Cities, Counties, and Park systems over the last 20 plus years has exploded. Most if not all efforts related to recreational trails over these years has been focused on construction of new trails. There have been little organized efforts in trail preservation and or preventive maintenance (PM) methods to extend the usable life of the trails. The agencies that have a PM programs for their recreational trails rely on treatments that started out as highway or street treatments that may have been modified for use on the trails.