Why We Like Narrow Trails

Why We Like Narrow Trails

Recently I introduced Trail Topics to help spread trail advocacy. The board has also provided a forum to discuss these topics with staff. Two weeks ago I spoke about why we shouldn’t see roads as a substitute for trails. Tonight I’ll expand on why we like purpose-built trails.

I’d like to use the new Saratoga to the Skyline trail to illustrate. This isn’t a Midpen trail but Midpen provided substantial funding for it. In my opinion this is the best new trail in Santa Clara County in many years. As a mountain biker I wish it was open to bikes, but as a hiker and dog walker I love it. You can see my dog in the top left picture. He loves it too.

That picture illustrates that trails invite us to explore, and take us to different ecosystems. They connect us closely to the environment and help us experience the sights and sounds of nature.

The top right picture shows two different features that I really enjoy. First, the trail has been built to visit places that provide great views over Saratoga and out to the Bay. While roads primarily take us to one destination, trails can visit a number of places for different purposes.

Second, there are a number of interpretive exhibits that help us understand the local flora, fauna and cultural history. This provides a teaching element and reinforces why we should take care of the land.

The lower left photo illustrates some detailed design aspects. Well-built trails are sustainable, using appropriate grades for the soils and slopes. This particular trail climbs a steep hillside, but with gentle grades and switchbacks. The trail also has some clever features. It’s common for switchbacks to widen and erode as users cut corners. Here, a stone bench has been built into the switchback not only to provide a rest spot but to protect the trail by making sure users take the intended path.

While this trail isn’t currently open to bikes, it’s well designed for multi-use. It has very good sight lines, particularly as it descends through the switchbacks. In the few places where sight lines are limited, you’ll generally see the trail pitch uphill into a turn, which would prevent high speed surprises.

One more point is that this trail was built with a lot of volunteer labor. Building good trails is a great way to engage the community and develop the next generation of land stewards.

My final photo goes back to the previous topic. At the end of the new trail, you come to this road, which reminds us of negative human impacts rather than focusing us on the natural landscape. In this case, options may have been limited, but when thinking about new trail systems we should consider that the purpose built trails will work in concert with our goals for conservation, sustainability and development of stewardship. Roads will work against those goals.

Thanks for your time and the opportunity to speak. I’ll be back with another trail topic soon.

These comments were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors during the public comment portion of their August 25, 2021 meeting.