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Planning and Implementation

Also see Greenways and Trails Toolbox and Building Capacity of Volunteer Groups.

Key elements of successful trail system projects


Adapted from Innovative Non-Motorized Trail Projects and Ideas

  • Each project includes a grassroots support effort with enthusiastic people and agencies.
  • The projects have a clear plan that illustrates what the individual or group would like to do and how they intend to achieve their desired goals.
  • Partnerships exist and each partner has a defined role that is carried out.
  • There is access to funding and an understanding of how long-term maintenance and management will occur.

Major criteria for a quality project

  • The trail system is sensitive to both natural and cultural resources.
  • The trail system generates revenue, either through compatible leased use of the corridor, or through concessions or other trail-related businesses.
  • The trail system is a reflection of social responsibility and enhances the community, region, state and country.

Criteria for successful trail system development

  • The system must be well planned, including phasing, long-term maintenance and funding.
  • The system clearly connects Point A to Point B and usually connects numerous points in between.
  • The trail system has a clear identity with a definitive name that attracts people and defines the trail's focus.
  • The trail system is well signed, often with a special identity signage program.
  • A well-designed and attractive map is readily available at numerous locations.
  • Interpretation is provided. Examples range from simple explanation on maps or at trailheads, to more formal wayside exhibits or even visitor centers.
  • Support service systems are available. This can range from highly sophisticated to primitive (for example, trailheads, restrooms, campgrounds, lodging, restaurants, supply shops). Many of the most successful trails link to towns where diverse services are provided.

Adapted from Creating Greenways: A Citizen's Guide

  • There is a management strategy that describes how the trail will be managed, used and maintained.
  • The management plan identifies how specific tasks will be carried out and who will be responsible for them, including schedules and assignments for maintenance activities and staffing requirements.
  • The plan identifies management issues and user guidelines to address those issues.
  • A monitoring program is established with an enforcement mechanism in place.
  • A core of volunteers is maintained through regular meetings, programmed events and continued publicity.

Tips for working with developers

The Fifth Amendment's takings clause and associated legal precedent prohibits conditioning subdivision and site plan approvals upon a developer's willingness to allow or provide a public trail. When a landowner is requesting a zoning change, or if the zoning ordinance provides density or other bonuses to the developer in return for trail access, there may be an opportunity to negotiate for the desired improvements, especially if they are mentioned in the jurisdiction's comprehensive plan. It is important to have someone at the table early in the process who understands the leverage and mutual interests of each party to negotiate for a connected trail system.

Tips for local government

  • Have reasonable language in an approved plan that is supported by the local planning commission and board of supervisors or city council.
  • Have a good map that is easy to access showing the overall plan.
  • Develop design specifications as part of a "Standards for Developers" manual. This manual should include trail classifications that relate back to the adopted plan.
  • Develop trail language to include on the developer's checklist at project conception.
  • Request the improvement early in the process. Negotiate for the desired improvement in the zoning process, preferably during the pre-application stage.
  • Review zoning applications to ensure appropriate final language.
  • Review site plans as early as possible to ensure that the project is designed correctly. In addition to plan compliance, ensure minimal disturbance to natural resources, low long-term maintenance cost, ease of maintenance access, appropriate surface for surrounding and predicted uses, access for people with disabilities and reasonable cost to developer.
  • Inspect trail facilities prior to construction, under construction if needed, and at completion for compliance with approved plans and accepted standards.
  • Allocate staff time to provide the review outlined above. Ensure that this staff person is qualified and can handle high-pressure situations.
  • Develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) to outline the review process.

"Both the county's Design Standards Manual and the greenways section of the Open Space and Natural Resource Plan have useful information for developers. We also require a pre-application conference for any new development plan, where natural resource protection areas and bicycle/pedestrian connections are discussed."
-Dan Ashby Mahon, Supervisor, Greenway, Blueway Division,
County of Albemarle Department of Parks and Recreation

Tips for advocates

  • Ask your locality to create a position within parks and recreation, public works, planning or a related department to implement the recommendations for trails in the approved plan.
  • Ask your locality to appoint a committee to act in an advisory capacity in the development of transportation plans. This committee should evaluate plan progress and recommend amendments and updated project descriptions. The citizens' committee can also present plan updates and recommendations for plan amendments to the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for endorsement and approval by the MPO policy board. Made of members of the public, this committee should be appointed by localities and the MPO policy board. The committee should meet regularly to review and develop plans and assist in organizing and managing public meetings and comments.
  • Ask your local board of supervisors to establish a pedestrian task force, consisting of citizens, appointed commission members and multi-disciplined staff, to review existing county pedestrian programs and activities, make recommendations on improving these programs, develop coordinated education and outreach efforts, and prioritize funding for pedestrian projects.
  • Publicize and reward the work of developers, businesses and community leaders who support trail and greenway development.
  • Bring something to the table such as money, equipment for trail development, or labor for trail maintenance or monitoring to demonstrate local support for the project.

Implementation Strategies

Although every greenway project is different, these strategies adapted from Creating Greenways: A Citizen's Guide can help move a project from a great idea to a community investment.

Target a demonstration project
Focus on building one section of your greenway that will highlight the positive impacts on the surrounding community. Choose a manageable and popular project.

Secure the land
Develop a matrix or table that includes the parcels under consideration, current use and ownership, existing level of protection (if any), the degree of control needed over each parcel, potential future uses, development threats, available funding, and the needs and wishes of the landowners. Although outright or fee simple purchase of the property will provide the most control over the property, other agreements like easements, conservation restrictions, and negotiations for public access may be all that is needed.

Seek partnerships and work with landowners
Land trusts and other nonprofit organizations can help develop and implement an effective protection strategy and work directly with the landowner to discuss the available options and associated tax benefits. Begin the dialogue with landowners early in the process. Start with the easiest and most accessible properties as the cornerstones of the greenway project. Respect landowners concerns and make modifications as needed.

Develop an implementation strategy and map
Determine which land protection techniques to use for each section of the greenway, and develop a timeline for milestones at both the parcel and the corridor level. Estimate the funding needed for each phase of the project and begin fund raising. A project map should show the corridor in relation to areas already protected, key resources and linkages, and critical parcels. Continue to design, develop and publicize the greenway, and get it on local and regional land-use maps.