On a typical day on the workplace, Troy Scott Parker discovered himself looking for a greater path. Working simply outdoors of Sykesville, MD, a 25-minute drive from Baltimore, Parker’s go-to path was flat, straight, rutted and within the open. In the summertime it was sweltering and within the winter frigid.

“It was depressing,” says Parker. “And boring.”

Parker knew there needed to be a greater route for connecting a paved path system to the historic downtown. Not solely wouldn’t it be extra fascinating and satisfying, it will be extra sustainable too (which issues greater than ever). Good factor that Parker works as one in every of America’s preeminent path designers.

From city greenways to epic bikepacking routes, trails have by no means been busier. They had been already rising in recognition earlier than the pandemic and lockdowns despatched us open air in report numbers. That’s a superb factor: The extra people who find themselves utilizing trails, the extra individuals who care about them, and the extra individuals who get up for shielding inexperienced and wild areas, like public lands, says Parker.

However whereas any path will do throughout stay-at-home orders, biking and mountain climbing indiscriminately won’t at all times be the case. Inspiring long-term curiosity requires not simply any strip of grime, however a nicely deliberate and constructed community.

mountain biking mtb singletrack trails
Mountain biking singletrack trails in Bentonville, Arkansas. Shutterstock

Pure Fundamentals

There are many path builders and designers who learn about grade, slope and drainage: the basics of erosion-proof building and key elements in a time of elevated use and local weather change. However Parker was one of many first, and stays one of many few, who understands that nice trails are solely 30 % technical. The remaining is psychology.

“It’s about understanding human nature and the person expertise,” he says from his Boulder, CO, house workplace. “It comes down to 2 elements: the standard and not using a title and pure form.”


Hiking trail
Mats Hagwall on UnSplash

Parker has spent extra time eager about the qualities of the perfect trails than simply about anybody. He wrote most of the early trail-building requirements that advanced into the how-to manuals nationwide parks, mountain bike organizations and volunteer path stewards use to construct paths. And he wrote and self-published the definitive e book on the artwork of path constructing in 2004, Natural Surface Trails by Design.

It took Parker many years to determine all of it out. Now almost 60, he began constructing trails at age 5 on the Ohio acreage the place he grew up. First it was for his Tonka vans after which for his Schwinn banana-seat bike. Design and architecture at all times fascinated him. As a teen, he dug his personal pond after which a system of “Roman aqueducts” and ditches to feed it with clear water (and preserve the leaky septic system out).


Path Philosophy

After school he moved to Boulder and put his self-taught expertise—a knack for seeing grade, managing water stream and constructing stone work—to good use on volunteer path tasks. Ultimately that led to paid path designing and constructing work, a job he continues. By means of all of it he philosophized concerning the elusive attributes of a superb path.

Parker lastly discovered the phrases within the structure traditional, The Timeless Way of Building by Christoper Alexander. Over greater than 500 pages Alexander simplifies why some cityscapes really feel higher than others to 2 elements: design patterns and the standard and not using a title. The speculation resonated with Parker.

Wandering within the woods he knew one thing in our DNA makes us universally drawn to openings and meadows, viewpoints and distinctive options, and rivers and lakes. We’re additionally drawn to small issues: an enormous stump, a rock all by itself, a gully. Trails that lead us to those locations are pleasing. Ones that hyperlink these factors, one after one other, are a pleasure.

trail switchbacks


We’re equally predictable in our dangerous habits. Go inside earshot of a waterfall, however to not it, and we’ll discover our personal approach to test it out. We’re extra snug strolling alongside the sting of an open space, until there’s a cool boulder in the midst of it. Then we wish to climb it and go searching and so ought to the path. Stacks of switchbacks are annoying. Similar to an empty maze at airport safety, we’ll reduce proper by way of them.

“Construct a path that resists our lazy tendencies and performs to our curiosity and also you’ll discover the standard and not using a title,” says Parker.

It’s arduous to elucidate, however easy to do: He simply acts like an 8-year-old and hyperlinks no matter catches his eye. Alexander’s “design sample” (Parker’s pure form) is even simpler to seek out. Simply choose up a stick.

“One thing good and crooked from a local species,” he says. “Put it on the bottom and scale up and also you’ve acquired your pure form.”

mountain biking trail singletrack

In different phrases, straight is boring. Twisting and turning, going up and down, retains us guessing and motivated to see what’s across the nook. Path builders name it rolling grade. Mountain bikers name it flow. And hikers knock off miles with stunning ease.

Pure form is of course sustainable too. Even a slight up and down or aspect to aspect, helps shed water off the path, decreasing erosion. It slows riders down, so there’s much less braking. Each are essential with local weather change in thoughts.

Dryer, hotter climate turns grime to mud and boots and skidding tires, particularly, elevate it into the air. Wind actually blows trails away. Much more harmful is water. With greater rain occasions, extra typically, ruts, wash outs and in-cutting add upkeep when path crews are already struggling to maintain up with the impression of extra tires and boots.

Troy Scott Parker
Troy Scott Parker Courtesy Picture

“Erosion destroys trails,” says Parker. “However what units up that destruction is poor design.”

We have to construct to a extra sturdy customary, able to dealing with extra site visitors and excessive climate, he says. And, as we increase path networks to maintain up with demand, we’ve got to consider what’s the finest and highest use of the land.


Land Relations

Hikers, bikers, horseback riders and motorized customers: All of them have completely different relationships with the path, he explains. ATVers and grime bikers are extra centered on their machine than what’s flying by. On a horse, the interplay with the animal is as essential because the surroundings. Targeted 20 toes in entrance of them more often than not, mountain bikers care extra about what the path does then the place it goes. Hikers are probably the most demanding, particularly in the event that they drove two hours to the trailhead. They anticipate the trail to attach them to the atmosphere and immerse them within the panorama.

Land managers have to preserve these relationships in thoughts as they contemplate the place to place new trails, thinks Parker. Previous industrial websites and broken landscapes make nice motorized zones. Quiet areas with few different customers work finest for horses. Locations with numerous ups and downs and ins and outs are perfect for mountain biking. Reserve probably the most spectacular locations for many who respect it probably the most: hikers.

hiking trail

“With extra curiosity in being outdoors and extra curiosity in our public lands, there’s extra strain to make the fitting alternative for the fitting causes,” says Parker. “It forces us to up our recreation and forestall dangerous concepts from taking place.”

Again in Sykesville, that’s what he was doing. Parker left the excessive floor of the present path and headed down the slope towards the South Department Patapsco River. The forest felt wild. Ravines and creeks teased him alongside. Fowl calls stuffed the air.

Trying on social media he couldn’t discover a image or point out of the realm. “It’s 25 minutes from Baltimore,” he says. “I can’t imagine it.”

Cameron Venti on Unsplash

He created a proposal for a path that might slowly roll its means down the slope from the trail system, by way of the forest, out and in of gullies, all the best way into city. Following the topography it has pure form and the standard and not using a title.

“It is going to be a lot extra fascinating,” he says. “I feel individuals will actually love strolling it. Now we simply have to construct it.”

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