Section 508 Navigation
NTTP Header Skip Navigation
HomeAbout usTrailsWhat's hotCalendarTrainingResources & libraryPartnersJoin usStore

Benefits of trails and greenways
Hosted by

Trails Lead to a "Fit" Community

With the emphasis on health and fitness in today's society, trails are becoming just as important as streets and sidewalks in our communities.

By Randy Martin

photo: trail next to subdivision

A recent survey shows that 79% of home buyers want walking and biking paths


If walking and biking are key components of an individual's fitness regimen, the trails they walk and bike on are major contributors to the "fitness" of an entire community. That's the conclusion of a recent survey published in Self magazine, which named Orange County the "Most Fit" region in the country on this year's list of the Best Places for Women. Sharing credit for that distinction, according to the magazine, are the county's 150 miles of bike trails, along with 39,000 acres of parks and 40 miles of coastline.

With the emphasis on health and fitness in today's society, trails are becoming just as important as streets and sidewalks in our communities. Offering people a place to walk, run or ride that encourages them to connect with nature is a valuable benefit that is relatively inexpensive to provide.

It is not a niche market that desires trails; it is an under-tapped mass market. A 2005 survey of potential home buyers by Brook Warrick of American Lives found that:

  • 92% want low traffic areas
  • 79% want walking and biking paths
  • 78% want natural open space
  • Only 22% want a golf course within the community.
photo: dirt trail
Find opportunities for natural surface trails as well as paved bikeways

There are very few things in this world that almost 80% of people agree on, yet many in the development community seem to be missing this one. A well-designed trail that carefully undulates and meanders only minimally alters the land, yet it maximizes value with a minimum expenditure.

While a golf course, which is desired by 22% of the market, costs about $500,000 per hole, a natural trail costs only about $30,000 per mile.

To better understand what 79% of the market prefers, we have surveyed hikers and cyclists at local trails in Orange County, and this is what we found:

  • 85% prefer natural surface trails over pavement or a landscaped decomposed granite surface.
  • 90% prefer a narrow single-track path to a dirt road or fire break road.75% prefer a mixture of rolling terrain and long hill accents/descents.
photo: trail up hill and houses
Good trail planning and siting are key to a successful community trail system

Trail Design Summary

In very basic terms these are keys to thoughtfully designed trails that will last:

Discover who will use the trail, how old they are and whether they will be walking, running, or riding a bicycle; will it be high, medium or low use?

Attempt to begin the trail at a width and grade that is comfortable for the disabled.

Discover if there are any interesting places or other trails to connect to. Figure out if this trail will be for transportation (commuting), recreation, or both.

Balance users' needs with the maximum grade. Ten percent is considered maximum sustainable for most soils. However, most users will find a sustained ten percent grade difficult, and an average grade below five percent is comfortable for a recreation trail. If the trail is used for transportation it may be better to make it steeper and shorten the distance to keep from frustrating the user.

Make the trail follow the grades and slope tread to the downhill side about 5% so water sheet flows over it.

Undulate the trail by making it rise and fall or alternate steep and gentle. It mixes up the challenge, makes it fun and keeps the water from running down the tread and causing erosion.

Meander the trail: It should be turning all the time in a nice even flow, but again not so much that it frustrates a walker who wants to get to a destination.

Consider placing a natural trail on the slope between streets. Often there is a great view from there, but watch privacy issues.

photo: trail in wooded area
Offering people a place to connect with nature is a valuable benefit that is relatively inexpensive to provide

Other Considerations:

For construction, we suggest hiring a professional trail builder, not a grader or a landscaper. A well-built trail can last decades with minimal maintenance. A poorly built trail will be a mess by the end of the first winter and will beg for rebuilding every spring.

Put the trail in first. Often clubhouses and other amenities are held off for financial or construction reasons, but trails are inexpensive and provide immediate value. A best case scenario is to allow the trail to become a popular draw to the area well before the models, but just after entitlement. Trail users may begin to dream about how nice it would be to live next to the trail.

Market your trails. We have joined with Kovach Marketing, a leading new-home marketing firm, to offer a turnkey approach to trail design and implementation. We design the trails and Kovach designs signage along the trails and all of the marketing materials that will help developers market the trails to the end user.

Our hope is that as developers start on every new project, they will ask: "Can we make room for a trail? The bottom line is that Trails Add Value and will set a community apart!

About the Author

Randy Martin is an avid cyclist/trail runner and development partner on two projects in the Central Valley. Randy resides in Auburn, CA and has an office in Costa Mesa, CA .He may be reached at (714) 641-9022 or and his website is at

Related articles:

Related topics:

More resources: