Friday, November 25, 2011

Parks and Safe Sustainable Trails

Sustainable forest management includes the management of parks or protected areas. British Columbia contains 14 million hectares of parks. Most parks are in forested landscapes. The Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management gives high priority to the area of forest protected in parks. Parks maintain indigenous forest in natural condition and protect biological diversity. Indigenous forests in parks can provide knowledge that can be applied in the stewardship of timber producing forests.

The human footprint in a timber producing forest is greatest in the forest roads that are used for access. If you do not know much about forests you just need to look at the roads in a forest to see if the human managers are providing good care. The human footprint in a park is greatest in the walking or hiking trails. If you do not know much about biodiversity or ecology, you just need to look at the trails to get an idea of the care provided to a protected area.

Trails are not so wide as forest roads and one tends to think that the impact of trails will be less than roads. However, forest roads are usually provided with drainage in the form of ditches and culverts. Trails are seldom provided with ditches and culverts. Location of a trail can be more exacting than the location of a road because it has to be placed on the landscape to be self draining.

If a trail is located up a draw or topography that collects water, the trail can erode and become more like a ditch than a trail as in the photo above.

Poor standards of trail construction can set the stage for future problems. Most park authorities have minimum standards for the trail surface or tread. Removing rocks larger than 4 inches during constructions prevents  the rocks from becoming hazards. Wear on the walking surface makes larger rocks project and cause a tripping hazard. Tripping hazards can injure hikers but they can also cause injury to a park. Users of a trail will try to avoid the hazard causing widening and damage to the trail.

This trail has widened considerably because hikers have taken two routes around boulders are on the center of the trail. To reduce the area taken up by trails, damage to the environment, and injury to hikers, trials in parks need to be well engineered. Good standards to location and construction are necessary.

BC Government expenditure on Parks is inadequate. There is a skeleton of Parks staff that manage contracts to corporate parks operators. Most maintenance effort goes into campsite and parking facilities.
Trails that go deep into parks are often classified as back country trails that receive little or no maintenance, unless someone volunteers to do the job. Given the present economic conditions, the necessary increases in Parks budgets are unlikely.

If you live in BC, are fit and able and interested in protecting the environment then there is probably a Park in your area that could use some help. Contact BC Parks.

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