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Natural Surface Trails by Design
by Troy Scott Parker

book cover
Look inside the book

Major purpose: Provides a flexible system of thought for generating sustainable, enjoyable natural surface trails for any trail use, trail type, and location

Specs: 80 pages, 140 color photos, 46 drawings

Format: Full color, perfect bound, 8.5x11 inches

Intended audience: Everyone involved with natural surface trails from novice to expert, including volunteers.

Order info:
Published by Natureshape LLC
Approx $30 plus shipping & handling
How to order

Look Inside the Book
Front cover

Back cover
Table of Contents, 1st page
Table of Contents, 2nd page
Switchbacks (p. 32)
Displacement (p. 37)
Compaction & displacement (p. 38)
Tread wear by modality (p. 41)
Tread soil test (p. 50)
Trail Evaluation form (p. 64)
Sample trail evaluation (p. 69)

How to Order

International orders welcome.

This groundbreaking book explains the real keys to all types of natural surface (soil, rock, crushed stone) trails. For any trail use or location, it builds the critical foundation of a system of thought that can generate a sustainable, enjoyable trail. And it can forever change the way you look at trails.

How does it work?
In practice, skilled trail designers make most of their decisions at a deeper level than traditional design and construction techniques typically described in trail books. This deeper level, called the Foundation Level, is the actual origin of sustainability and enjoyability. It consists of the basic forces and relationships—both physical and human—that govern how natural surface trails perform and how humans relate to trails and nature. Understanding the Foundation Level enables you to fully understand the complex dynamics of natural surface trails; improve trail design, construction, maintenance, and management techniques; generate context-appropriate solutions by understanding and responding to all aspects of problems and challenges; and think like a skilled trail designer.

Thoroughly illustrated with 140 color photos and 46 drawings, this book:
introduces a three-level system of thought encompassing all aspects of trail design, construction, maintenance, and management; and
thoroughly covers the Foundation Level, the critical base level that supports the higher levels in the system.

The Foundation Level
The Foundation Level distills the complexity of human and physical forces and relationships into eleven relatively simple, interrelated, interacting concepts. The eleven concepts are grouped into five categories:
Human Perception: The shape of nature itself, and how we perceive nature, trails, and sites (two concepts)
Human Feelings: How trails make us feel and how that affects trail visitors’ choices and behavior (four concepts)
Physical Forces: How compaction, displacement, and erosion act and interact on natural surface trails (three concepts)
Tread (trail surface) Materials: Characteristics of soil types, rock, and crushed stone and how they perform under trail use and erosion (one concept)
Tread Watersheds: The complex interaction of slopes, grades, water sources, runoff, physical forces, tread materials, water movement, and tread drainage presented in a structured, easy-to-understand way (one concept with 12 factors)
In short, Natural Surface Trails by Design describes the basic physical and human forces and relationships acting on each and every natural surface trail. How it does this is both innovative and potent. Instead of rules which work only in limited circumstances, its eleven distilled concepts form a flexible system of thought that works in any instance. The system explains the “whys” of trails in both human and physical terms, crystalizing the basic forces, relationships, and interactions of natural surface trails in a manageable, logical system of causes and consequences.

By understanding the eleven concepts and how they interact, you can think like a skilled trail designer. See and use the same information that skilled designers do, “read” existing trails, predict what will occur in the near and long term, predict how visitors will likely behave, anticipate and accommodate future changes caused by trail use and erosion, tightly weave trails into their sites, use natural features to improve both sustainability and visitor enjoyment, relate dozens of aspects of trails that previously seemed separate or weren’t even apparent to you, and more.

Additional Advantages
This system of concepts has additional advantages:
It helps generate appropriate solutions for any context. Hence the trails it generates are each highly customized to the exact context of site, usage, desired trail experience, trail purpose, weather and climate, soils and tread materials, local techniques and materials, and more.
It also tells you what won’t work. This is both predictive and part of the generative aspect of the system.
It can work with new trail materials, techniques, trail uses, and factors since these are merely new instances of the same basic forces and relationships (the eleven concepts). You can learn how new things can fit in to the existing system and can often largely predict how a new technique or material will perform without having to try it first.
It provides a design “checklist.” The more that a given trail or trail segment incorporates each of the eleven concepts, the more sustainable and enjoyable it will be. On the other hand, the more that a trail can’t incorporate one or more concepts, the more problems it will have. Logically, the concept areas in which the trail is weak predict the type of problems it will have.
Because trails work best when they incorporate all eleven concepts, the system uses the eleven concepts as trail evaluation criteria to provide a quick, accurate, and effective way to evaluate both the physical and human aspects of trails at the Foundation Level. This innovative approach overcomes traditional problems of how and what to evaluate on natural surface trails. Multiple evaluators can achieve a high degree of consistency with practice.
It creates a simple language to concisely communicate complex concepts, facilitate learning and teaching, and fluidly express further trail design, construction, and management ideas. The eleven concepts become primitives that can be combined into far richer language structures (both nouns and verbs) than is possible with traditional trail vocabulary.
Since engendering stewardship is an extension of sustainability, it emphasizes the importance of using sustainable, enjoyable trails to engender a sense of stewardship for trails and natural resources.
It’s easy for both novices and experienced trail designers to learn and use. Each concept is relatively simple, and much is based on what you may already know from being on existing trails and living in the world.
The real power of the system, however, is in how the concepts interact. By structure and intent, this book helps you to grasp and use those interactions as well as the concepts themselves.

A Different Kind of Trail Book
This book is very different from any “how-to” trail book ever written. It concentrates on how natural surface trails work—physically and as recreational experiences—in terms of the physical and human origins of sustainability and enjoyability. It views different modalities—hiking, equestrian, mountain bicycling, wheelchair, ATV, motorcycle, and ORV—as simply different instances of the same basic forces and relationships distilled in the eleven concepts. In fact, it looks at all aspects of trails in terms of those same forces and relationships. That’s the source of its power and usefulness—learning to understand each and every trail in terms of how it relates to its unique context. No other trail book has ever united the human and physical aspects so clearly.

The book is written in plain English with a minimum of jargon. Photos and drawings on most pages illustrate points with real-world examples. Book design is open and engaging. Look inside the book. It's intended to be read from front to back (take it out on a trail and absorb it under your favorite tree).

A New Foundation of Thought
Unlike most trail books, this book shows you how to think about trails rather than how to build any particular trail technique or structure. Yet by learning how to think about sustainability and enjoyability in terms of origin forces and relationships, by the end of the book you’ll know a great deal about how to form a sustainable trail. You’ll know what works and what doesn’t, know how to think through trail construction and maintenance situations in the structure provided by the eleven concepts, know how to see your trails and sites in new but easy-to-grasp ways, know how to evaluate trails for sustainability and enjoyment, and know a rich new way to communicate trail concepts for which we formerly lacked language.

Yet, as mentioned earlier, all of this informs and “fits under” the traditional design and construction techniques in most other trail books. Natural Surface Trails by Design literally creates a new foundation of thought that enlightens, enriches, and can help improve the higher-level techniques in most existing books. The next two books in this series discuss those higher-level techniques in terms of their roots in this new foundation.

The Trails by Design Series
Natural Surface Trails by Design is the first of three books in the Trails by Design series, but you can use it by itself to design more sustainable, enjoyable trails today. The second and third books in the series are based on this first book.

Bottom Line
Whether you’re a novice or experienced designer, this breakthrough book will help structure your thoughts, enable you to see and use the same information used by skilled trail designers, and improve your natural surface trail design skills. Novices will learn a solid basis for all aspects of natural surface trail design, construction, maintenance, and management. Those with prior experience will put a well-structured foundation under what they already know and learn a concise way to structure and teach natural surface trail design. This book is also highly recommended as the first “how-to” book for volunteers, especially volunteer crew leaders, since volunteers tend to be extremely receptive to its naturalistic, intuitive, logical approach and its emphasis on using sustainable, enjoyable trails to increase trail and natural resource stewardship.

Regardless of your prior knowledge, one thing is certain: you will never look at nature, trails, and sites the same way again. The eleven concepts and their structure are so compelling that they’ll stick with you for life.

This book is published by Natureshape LLC. Order online

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