Trail Care Essentials

Welcome to the FVMBA Trail School! Here you will find resources for trail users and volunteers to learn about the essentials of trail care. This is meant as a guide to your learning and will not provide all of the answers. We look forward to seeing you on trail and furthering your knowledge in practical settings.

Why are trails important?

Consider the following questions…

  • What do trails mean to you? What might they mean to other people? Do they have other purposes?
  • Why do we need trail associations? What do trail associations do?
  • Why do we need to look after the trails?

A twisty dirt trail bordered by bright green ferns through a forest

All trail work requires permission!


Before we can do any work on the trails, whether it’s maintenance or building a new trail, we need to have permission from the land manager who is responsible for the land the trails are located on. Land managers might be government departments responsible for public land or they might be private land owners.

What might happen if you don’t get permission before starting work?




Erosion refers to the removal of soil, rock, or other material from the trail.

What are the two main causes of erosion that we commonly see on the trails?


What makes a trail sustainable?


We most often think of sustainability as ensuring the trail itself has minimal impact on the environment and is long lasting, requiring little work to take care of it. But sustainability also means having the resources to look after the trail: including volunteers to do the work, and money to purchase tools.


Characteristics of a Sustainable Trail


Reducing Erosion from Water

Look at the pictures below and for each, describe how they might help reduce erosion caused by water.


Reducing Erosion from People


Whether we are biking, hiking, or running, we contribute to trail erosion too. What are some ways that might help reduce the erosion that people cause? Describe what you see in the pictures below and how these strategies could help.


Trail Tools


How many of the following tools can you name?


Types of Trail Tread


What are some of the different trail surfaces that we ride on?


Dirt (soil) can be either organic or mineral. Organic soil is the debris from plants – pine needles, leave, rotten logs, etc… It is rich in nutrients and is great for growing the lush ferns, moss, salal and other native plants in our forests. How would this be for a trail surface? What happens to it when it gets wet?

Mineral soil is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. It packs very well and forms a hardened surface that’s great for biking, hiking, or running on. It can still turn to mud and will depend on the various proportions of the sand, silt, and clay. Generally it is both better at letting water sheet across it as well as letting water drain through it.

Which type of soil do you think would be better for a sustainable trail? Why?


Trail Care is Problem Solving

For each of the images or videos below, identify the problems. What are the different ways that you could fix each problem to make the trail more sustainable and enjoyable for all users?







Birkby, R. Lightly on the Land: The SCA Trail Building and Maintenance Manual. 2nd Ed. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books; 2013.
DeBoer, A. Whistler Trail Standards: Environmental and Technical Features. Whistler: Resort Municipality of Whistler; 2003.
Felton, V. Trail Solutions: IMBA’s Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack. Train, E. (Ed). Boulder: IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association); 2004.
Scott Parker T. Natural Surface Trails by Design. Boulder: Natureshape; 2004.
US Forest Service. Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook. US Department of Agriculture; 2007.
Appalachian Mountain Club. AMC’s Complete Guide to Trail Building & Maintenance. 4th Ed. Guilford: Appalachian Mountain Club; 2008.
Pacific Crest Trail Association: Trail Skills College
Guide to Quality Trail Experience: IMBA & Bureau of Land Management (US)