Trailshaping is the world’s most advanced solution generator for natural surface trails. It distills the thought processes of trail experts into 12 relatively simple factors. Together, these factors account for virtually all aspects of trail planning, design, construction, maintenance, and evaluation, and some major management aspects. The factor names make a useful language for natural surface trails.
Trailshaping factors help you to understand or generate any trail for any type of use, from a tiny trail section to an entire trail system. The factors directly integrate our feelings and the physics of trails: the shape of nature itself; how we perceive nature; how trails make us feel; how trail use changes trails; how soils and materials behave; how materials, water, drainage, erosion, and trail use interact; and much more.
The ultimate goal of trailshaping is to enable you to work with trails the same way that experts do, but also to work outside the traditional trail design/construction/maintenance box when appropriate. Trailshaping gives you a much larger box where much more is possible. In this age of high environmental awareness, can you afford not to shape the best trails your resources allow? Can you afford not to have the flexibility to solve any trail problem on the fly with a custom solutions exactly appropriate for your exact context? Can you afford not to see the big picture of how everything relates to everything else?
How Does Trailshaping Work?
Trailshaping goes below trail techniques, below trail types, below guidelines and BMPs. At this deep level, the 12 trailshaping factors address the underlying shapes, forces, and relationships that comprise all natural surface trails.
Any piece of any trail is simply a particular instance of the same shapes, forces, and relationships which underlie all natural surface trails. Every piece of every trail is unique because of its context, and trailshaping encourages more uniqueness, not less. As architect Mies van der Rohe said, “God dwells in the details.”
Trailshaping helps you see everything that matters in a given context (including aspects that most people and some experts miss); understand all of it in terms of shapes, forces, and relationships; and optimize it all to form any trail that these can support. Possible solutions generate themselves directly from the contextsolutions you may never have thought of, using aspects of the context you weren’t previously aware of.
Trailshaping is a powerful tool which solves many of the most difficult problems of working with natural surface trails. You can use this system to:
Better, Smarter, Faster & Cheaper Results
In the long run, trailshaping provides better, smarter, faster, and cheaper ways to shape sustainable, enjoyable natural surface trails. Even if the planning and design phase takes longer, it pays off later through knowing more about the site and trail up front, reduced maintenance costs (possibily greatly reduced), and potentially reduced construction costs. Other payoffs are making the most of the trail experience, reduced site impact, and increased sense of stewardship from visitors who come to love the trail and site.
Many solutions are low tech and low cost, even free. Trailshaping can harness the forces that form “social” or “rogue” trails to improve both sustainability and trail enjoyment. In addition, trailshaping generates many ways to shape more sustainable and more enjoyable results with less site impact, less cost, and less effort.
Where higher cost is inevitable, trailshaping helps maximize your return on investment, spend time and resources wisely, and do it right the first time. Trailshaping also works for structures such as trail bridges and boardwalks to help maximize their value as enjoyable trail features as well as their utility.
Trailshaping works equally well for trail design, new construction, and trail maintenance, as well as for user-formed trails (“social” trails). Its aesthetic factors can also greatly improve trail closure and restoration results. All of this is done with the same 12 factors.
A Very Human & Natural Process
Trailshaping is neither a top-down nor bottom-up system. There’s no flowchart, no rules to follow, no set process, no built-in need for detailed measurements or calculations. There are just the 12 factors and the predictable ways that their shapes, forces, and relationships interact. The 12 factors are all equal with no hierarchy, making them work much like nature itself where everything affects everything else. The system is satisfying to work with because it’s so direct and makes so much sense.
Taking people into account is extremely important for accommodating visitors and for shaping the type of trail you intend. Half of the trailshaping factors are primarily human factors used to tightly weave trails and trail structures into nature; make the most of sites; optimize trail flow and the foot-by-foot enjoyment of being on the trail; establish appropriate safety, efficiency of travel, and playfulness; and harmonize everything as much as possible. The ideal state is contentment where we don’t want to change anything.
You are free to intend any type of trail you want (although not every intent can be supported by a given context). You can use trailshaping to shape the most wonderful, sustainable trail, or an ugly, dull, unsustainable trail. It’s your choice. Trailshaping is designed to optimize sustainable, enjoyable trails, though, and so if you intend for anything less, you must do it with intent.
Volunteers love trailshaping. It empowers them by making sense of the world and engaging their minds as well as their bodies.
Everything begins and ends with evaluation. Every choice is based on evaluation of the predictable outcome of that choice. Hence evaluating a choice, part of a trail, a whole trail, or an entire trail system is routine. Trailshaping is the first system that can evaluate any aspect of trails at any scale at any time. In fact, because trailshaping is based on prediction and evaluation, even conceptual or proposed trails can be evaluated as if they already exist.
Day 1 is an indoor session introducing the 12 trailshaping factors. Day 2, and optionally any subsequent days, provide guided field time for practice. The more field practice you can get, the more you'll benefit.
There’s a lot of information, but trailshaping is designed to be easy to learn. The workshop is based on concepts first published in Natural Surface Trails by Design: Physical and Human Design Essentials of Sustainable, Enjoyable Trails. It goes further, however, including material from an upcoming update as well as future books in the Trailshaping Series.
For more information or to discuss scheduling this workshop for your group, please contact the presenter, Troy Scott Parker.
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