Natural Resources Guidelines for Recreation Path & Trail Planning


Recreation and Aesthetics

This fact sheet was produced by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the National Park Service Rivers. Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. Summer 1995.

"Almost everyone has a 'favorite spot' outdoors. These special places might be a high ledge with a magnificent view, a brook whose waters create beautiful music as they fall over messy rocks, a stretch of stone wall in the deep woods that is a peacefill place to think, a secret grove of ancient trees like a cathedral, or a grass-enclosed Itummock on the edge of a werland thar offers an intimate vie7o of wildlife. Identifying these types of resorlrces and trying to work them ilzto your trail system, can enhance the val~le of your trailfor many people in the community. Be aware, however, of the fragile nature of special places, both environmentally and spiritually. They will not tolerate much change, so step slowly and carefully."

--Vermont Trails and Greenways Manual, 1993


Planning for the aesthetic character of a new path corridor is extremely important to the eventual success of that path in 1) creating a quality recreational experience for its users and 2) preserving a quality recreational experience for those not using the path but recreating in 'he adjacent corridor in different ways. Aesthetic considerations can be overlooked in a typical path planning process full of permits, negotiations, and funding strategies, but careful attention to aesthetics can result in a path that stimulates the senses and heightens awareness of the environment for all users.


What constitutes a "quality recreation experience" is certainly a very subjective matter and varies depending on the type of activity and the individual. Some of the values are probably the same for both path/trail users and other users of the corridor. These would include opportunities for relaxation, physical fitness, socialization, being out-of-doors, developing and using particular skills, and enjoying scenery.

Other values are probably different for the two groups. Path/trail users probably welcome rea sonable amounts of interaction with other path and trail users. Non-path/trail users on the other hand are probably seeking more of a sense of solitude and direct contact with the natural environment. The quality of the experience for people already using a corridor for different recreation purposes may be sig nificantly diminished by a new path or trail. Canoeists, anglers, and wildlife watchers in partic ular may not feel positive about a new facility and new users of an area. This will depend to a great extent on whether the corridor is in an urban or rural environment with people in the urban environment expecting and accepting more interactions with other tvDes of users.


Protecting the scenic values of existing trail corridors is identified as a "high priority action" in the Vermont Trails and Greenways Plan. Preserving aesthetic values requires planning that addresses not only the path itself, but the entire area around the path that could be impacted.

In evaluating the aesthetics of a path corridor design, consider not only views from the path, but also views of the path from adjacent lands. This is particularly important when you have a view that should be highlighted, or when an adjacent landowner objects to the view of the trail.

Path aesthetics are a product of both the original path design and the maintenance practices after it exists. For example, the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) has addressed aesthetic issues associated with maintenance practices where existing utility lines intersect the trail. Techniques include hand-clearing of vegetation, "feathering" of vegetation along the edges of the right-of-way, leaving low-growing vegetation, and avoiding the use of herbicides.

How do you let everyone experience the resource and still maintain the recreational experience they are seeking? Recreation and resource managers have been attempting to answer this question through such approaches as carrying capacity studies and such tools as trail designations for specific uses (in order to preserve the types of experience each user group is seeking). In an ideal situation, there would be area enough to design for the needs of both path and non-path recreational users.

The best way to avoid future conflicts between the two groups is to conduct an inventory of recreation and aesthetic experiences along the proposed corridor. This inventory should include some of the following areas: scenic views, location of watchable wildlife such as hawks or beaver, popular fishing places, waterfalls and gorges, suitability of an adjacent river for canoeing, and swimming places. When conducting an inventory it is important to talk to local people about the kind of recreation experiences that are taking place in the corridor, to gather information and find out their feelings. As an example some highly used swimming holes might be enhanced by the location of a path/trail while locating a path/ trail near a more secluded swimming hole would destroy the ambiance of the area.


When planning a new path/trail the following aesthetic guidelines should be considered for those who will be using the corridor but not the path:

When planning a new path/trail the following aesthetic guidelines should be considered for those who will be using the path/trail:


The Vermont Recreation Plan (1993-1998) and the Vermont Trails and Creenways Plan are avail able from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, 802-241-3689.

The Water Quality Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has several inventories for reference (some limited copies available) at 802-241-3770.

For more information contact:

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation
103 South Main St., 10 South
Waterbury, Vermont 05671 -0601

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