Water Trail Toolbox: Developing Trail Facilities
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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Facilities that are customarily built along a water trail fall into three general categories: access, day use, and camping. The size and appearance of these facilities may well be determined by the availability of funds, the setting, and the expertise of the construction crew. Here are tips to consider when building these facilities:

Build facilities for visitors to enter and leave the waterway trail that are appropriate for the setting, be it wilderness, rural countryside, or urban. For instance, it would be just as inappropriate to provide elaborate facilities in a wilderness area as it would to provide rustic facilities at a heavily visited urban waterfront. Make sure the access facilities are appropriate for the types of boats typically used on the waterway. Consider what kind of boat ramp, if any, is needed and how large the parking area should be. Make the facilities large enough for the anticipated usage but do not overbuild.

Portage Trails

Build portage trails where visitors have to transport boats around obstructions or hazards in the waterway and from one body of water to another. In some instances, you may have to build a portage trail from the parking area to the waterway. Compared to hiking trails, portage trails generally must be wider and smoother and have more gentle curves and turns. They should be able to accommodate collapsible boat dollies, which are becoming popular. Try to have a slightly wider area at each end of the portages for loading and unloading.

Day-Use Area

Provide toilet facilities that are appropriate for the wilderness, rural, or urban setting. Other day-use facilities range from simple designated picnic areas to hiking trails with sophisticated interpretive exhibits. Providing interpretive and orientation information can enhance their experience—and direct their activities away from areas that are environmentally sensitive, unsafe, or closed by landowners.

Camping Areas

Build your campsites so they are easily accessible from the waterway, have a safe place to store boats, are fairly level and well drained, and offer protection from strong winds. Provide wooden tent platforms in heavily used and fragile areas. Install an appropriate human waste disposal system. If fires are permitted, provide grills to reduce the possibility of fires getting out of control.

Construction Crews

Use care in deciding whether to use volunteers or professionals to construct trail facilities. Volunteers can readily handle the relatively simple tasks, such as clearing brush for campsites and building picnic tables. Some volunteers may be current or retired construction workers and managers who can handle complex construction projects. For large, difficult projects, you may have to use—and pay for—the services of an architect and several contractors, plus a general contractor or engineer to coordinate their efforts and to obtain all the necessary permits and inspections.

[Learn about Constructing Facilities]


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