Building Trails for the Future
Kevin Fink & Paul Neal, Park Managers
This spring, Summit Metro Parks will reroute Deer Run Trail at O’Neil Woods Metro Park to bypass an aged staircase leading up the hill from Bath Road. This isn’t the first time Summit Metro Parks has rerouted park goers’ favorite trails, but why? In the time since building most of the park district’s trails, we’ve learned a lot.
What is different about building trails now compared to early years?
Summit Metro Parks was established in 1921. The most dramatic thing that has changed since our early years is the layout of trails. In the past, most trails travelled straight down hillsides, which resulted in steep trails and contributed to erosion.
Now we lay trails using switchbacks, a zigzag pattern that carries trails gradually along an incline. This gives water more places to flow off the trails. Additionally, we try to incorporate an out-slope — sloping trail surfaces away from the uphill bank. This allows water to flow across the trail instead of following it downhill.
Rerouting iconic trails
Deer Run Trail at O’Neil Woods Metro Park is being re-rerouted for a few reasons, including those above. Due to age and erosion of the staircase, we decided to utilize the natural contours of the area and reroute a section of the trail to include great scenic views. Once the reroute is complete, we will open the new section and start naturalizing the old section of trail, including removing the stairs.
In other trail reroutes throughout the years, storm damage has been a driving factor. People loved walking up through the valley on the former route of Spring Hollow Trail in Hampton Hills Metro Park, but they may not have noticed how the trail was built under their feet. The posts for boardwalks and bridges along this trail were in the stream bed.
With the increased intensity and frequency of storms, the stream bed was down-cutting at such a rate that the structures were becoming unsafe. For this reason, we needed a new approach and in 2018, the trail was rerouted.
What is “sustainable trail building?”
It’s important we build trails that will stay in good condition over time with minimal maintenance. Having to do less regular maintenance, like filling in washouts, frees up our crews to do other tasks while better benefitting the environment. If we can reduce erosion, less soil will run downhill into the watershed. Also, if we can avoid bringing in outside material to fill in washouts, we are reducing the chance of introducing invasive species to an area.
Planning the new section of Deer Run Trail allows us to construct a sustainable foot-trail and minimize erosion. This project also allows us to re-naturalize the eroded ridgeline of the original trail and let nature take over once more. Additionally, we worked with our conservation and cultural resources departments to ensure that this sustainable build will not have any negative impact to the area.
We don’t reroute trails only to change things up; we do so to keep them in better repair for a longer period of time, offering the public a chance to enjoy safely them for many years to come.
During construction, Deer Run Trail will remain open for use. Although some might miss the challenge of navigating the tough uphill climb, the new section will provide more mileage and great views of O’Neil Woods Metro Park. Our goal is to lessen our impact, reduce erosion and provide safe trails for patrons to enjoy. Once the trail reroute is complete, we are hopeful everyone will appreciate the new addition to Deer Run Trail.