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Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads and Campgrounds

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Chapter 16--Learning From Others

Case studies provide insight and better understanding when planning and designing trails and recreation sites. The trail system master plans for communities in Florida and Arizona and the recreation sites in Oregon, Montana, Arizona, and Illinois incorporate equestrian design concepts appropriate to the sites' climate, soils, topography, and vegetation. These projects take the needs of users and land managers into consideration as well as budget limitations. Some projects are completed and others were in progress when this guidebook was published.

Trail System Master Plans

A comprehensive trail system can improve quality of life, particularly when trails provide more than recreation opportunities. Some areas adopt healthy community initiatives that support nonmotorized access to local schools, shopping districts, and workplaces. Public trail systems can be far from roads or they can supplement the roadway system. Trail systems can be designed with low, moderate, or high levels of development, connecting trails in wildland, rural, urban, or a combination of settings.

It is expensive to create corridors for walkways, bikeways, and trails after transportation, recreation, residential, or commercial infrastructure has been established. Master plans reduce redundancy, streamline funding, and give communities a way to communicate their needs. Master plans can provide the framework for a cohesive, linked trail network that serves the greatest number of people in the broadest geographic areas of a community. Although it takes time and lots of cooperation to develop trail master plans, the effort can produce many benefits. The master plans in this section are from areas with a high level of development.

Equestrian Trail Network Study--Pinellas Park, FL

Within the city of Pinellas Park, FL, large land tracts are owned by active equestrians. When the Equestrian Trail Network Study began, there were roughly 750 horses and 45 property owners with public and private stables scattered over about 200 acres (80.9 hectares). Horse trails meandered through the area, taking advantage of local parks and roads. There were about 9.6 miles (15.4 kilometers) of horse trails within city parks and rights-of-way. Many of these trails were not contiguous because of barriers, roadway crossings, large drainage channels, and private property boundaries.

Growth and development within the surrounding neighborhoods brought schools, parks, and other public facilities. As development encroached on areas enjoyed by riders, increasing traffic spurred the equestrian community to request an improved, safe, and dedicated trail network. As a result, the Pinellas Park planning department established a nine-member Equestrian Trails Study Commission. In 2000, the commission recommended establishing an equestrian trail network for Pinellas Park.

The Orth-Rodgers and Associates consulting firm, in cooperation with the Pinellas Park Planning Department and the Pinellas Park Equestrian Trail Study Commission, produced the Equestrian Trail Network Study (2002). They collected data based on field reconnaissance, aerial photography, existing rights-of-way and land-use maps, local history, trail user needs, and input from the general public and professionals. They reviewed the history of the equestrian community in the area, conducted an inventory of existing conditions, and identified existing recreation facilities. Common themes included:

  • Physical activity and exercise opportunities
  • General design considerations and network connections
  • Conservation and management provisions
  • Improved access to special features and locations
  • Improved safety and access at roadway crossings

After completing these activities, the consultants developed planning guidelines and proposed design objectives. They addressed:

  • Design criteria--Rights-of-way limits, adjacent property ownerships, clear zones, sight distances, trail crossings with at-grade road intersections, controlled trail access, typical trail sections, and information kiosks
  • Trail foundation and tread--Drainage, trailbed, tread, vegetation, and obstructions
  • Trail safety--Signs and trail markings, pavement markings, horse-friendly lighting, and general equestrian safety
  • Trail maintenance and management criteria
  • Trail etiquette

Subsequent phases of this project will include design and construction of trail network improvements. The Equestrian Trail Network Study is not available online.

Trails Master Plan--Scottsdale, AZ

Before approval of a trail master plan in 2003, Scottsdale, AZ, had not addressed trail planning since 1991. During that period, the city experienced significant growth that affected about 300 miles (483 kilometers) of unpaved, shared-use trails. Many trails that once were nonmotorized transportation routes became fragmented.

During the planning process Scottsdale used many of the concepts found in Chapter 2--Planning Trail Systems. The resulting trail master plan classified existing and proposed trails and links using seven different categories:

  • Primary or signature trails--Trails that have regional significance by providing linkages to major destinations
  • Secondary trails--Trails that provide links between primary trails and more localized neighborhood trails
  • Local trails--Trails that are usually feeder trails
  • Neighborhood trails--Trails that are very limited in range, serving a localized area
  • Trailheads--Entry points to the trail system
  • Trail crossings--Crossings designed to minimize safety risks
  • Paved links--Paved sections where new, unpaved trails are not possible

The plan considered the environment when classifying primary, secondary, local, and neighborhood trails:

  • Built environment trails--Trails that occur in more constructed environments and have a decomposed granite trail surface
  • Natural environment trails--Trails that occur in more natural or undisturbed open space and have native surface materials

Standards were assigned to each trail class to describe the minimum acceptable tread width, surface type, signs, and whether additional amenities would be provided.

West Valley Multimodal Transportation Corridor Master Plan--Phoenix, AZ

The Maricopa Association of Governments and the Flood Control District of Maricopa County jointly developed a multiphase, multipurpose flood control facility that also provides opportunities for recreation trails and alternative transportation trails.

The West Valley is northwest of Phoenix, AZ, along the New and Agua Fria Rivers. It encompasses a riparian ecosystem common to the Sonoran Desert region, along with diverse plant and animal habitats as well as cultural resources. The transportation corridor links many communities in the greater Phoenix area.

The general topography of the West Valley includes low undulating hillsides, mountains, open space, major washes, and innumerable deep arroyos. The northern reach is rugged and remains largely undeveloped. The flat topography in the central and southern reaches favors urban development.

The West Valley Multimodal Transportation Corridor Master Plan is the regional framework for a 42-mile (67.6-meter) trail network that connects existing trails and major public land areas, serving pedestrians, riders, bicyclists, and other trail users. The nonmotorized trails take advantage of locations that offer multiple benefits--alternative transportation routes, recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat preservation, open space protection, and flood control.

The master plan acknowledged the natural character along the rivers and considered ways to minimize environmental degradation. To facilitate planning, the corridor was divided into three landscape management zones--conservation, passive, and active. Planners considered the amount of use appropriate for each zone, restricted access to sensitive areas, and identified potential conflicts, safety issues, and challenges to trail design. Five types of trails were identified:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Neighborhood-transit-connector
  • Conservation-interpretive
  • Equestrian

To accommodate the needs of anticipated trail users, trails vary in location, design, and amenities. The plan attempts to create a sense of place, maximize safety, and establish a regional multimodal transportation system that links residential areas, bus routes, parks, commercial buildings, schools, and other facilities.

Trailheads and Campgrounds

Whether a recreation site is in the country or in the city, the goal of equestrians is the same--to have a safe and enjoyable visit. The following case studies describe popular equestrian recreation sites in a variety of settings. The examples are arranged in order of complexity, beginning with the lowest level of development. Levels of recreation site development may be different than levels of trail development.

Equestrian Trailheads and Campgrounds With Low to Moderate Development

Recreation opportunities in areas with low and moderate levels of development strongly appeal to riders. These trailhead and camping opportunities, usually found in rural or wildland settings, bring a level of enjoyment that is difficult to duplicate in highly developed or urban areas.

Horse Creek Campground--Siuslaw National Forest, Florence, OR

The Horse Creek Campground, in the Mapleton Ranger District of the Siuslaw National Forest, is shaded by tall pines that also provide shelter from the wind. The campground has two access points to the adjacent trail system, which offers scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and nearby mountains (figure 16-1). The trail system has looped trails and road segments that offer many options for day trips.

Map of Horse Creek Campground.
Figure 16-1--Horse Creek Campground in the
Siuslaw National Forest.

When designing the Horse Creek Campground, Siuslaw National Forest personnel worked closely with volunteers from Oregon Equestrian Trails, a nonprofit service organization. The campground has 11 camp units furnished with tables and fire rings (figure 16-2). The visitor information station is near a vault toilet (figure 16-3) built by Job Corps members. Water for stock is available on nearby trails (figure 16-4). Each rustic camp unit has access to a post-and-rail corral in one of two sizes. The larger corrals are 15 feet (4.6 meters) by 30 feet (9.1 meters) and have wood divider rails down the middle. The smaller corrals (figure 16-5) are 15 feet (4.6 meters) by 20 feet (6.1 meters) and have ropes or chains for gates.

Photo of a campsite at the Horse Creek Campground.
Figure 16-2--The Horse Creek Campground
has 11 camp units.

Photo of a vault toilet with a corral and hitching post in the background.
Figure 16-3--Members of the Job Corps
built the sturdy vault toilet.

Photo of a trail leading to horse water.
Figure 16-4--Stock water is available a
short distance down the trail.

Photo of a campsite with a corral.
Figure 16-5--Some of the campsites have corrals.
This one measures 15 by 20 feet.

Drivers enter the campground on a single-lane gravel road with a cul-de-sac at the end. Some camp units with graveled pullthrough and back-in parking pads accommodate vehicles with trailers. A combination mounting and loading ramp (figure 16-6) serves stock trucks and people in wheelchairs. Figure 16-7 shows the removable rails that allow access for riders with disabilities.

Photo of a combination mounting and loading ramp.
Figure 16-6--A combination mounting and loading ramp is
provided for people who use mobility devices and for trail stock.

Photo of a woman removing the removable rail on the mounting ramp.
Figure 16-7--A removable rail provides
access for people with disabilities.

Picketpost Trailhead--Tonto National Forest, Superior, AZ

Picketpost Trailhead, near Superior, AZ, takes its name from the feature it accesses--Picketpost Mountain (figure 16-8). This simple recreation site in the Sonoran Desert is an excellent example of a shared-use trailhead built by volunteers. The site (figure 16-9) has parking for equestrians and other visitors, a toilet building, and a wayside exhibit. Figure 16-10 shows the toilet building, and figure 16-11 shows the equestrian parking area. To successfully complete the project, Tonto National Forest personnel coordinated numerous volunteer events. A grant funded the toilet building, directional signs, a hitch rail, and a bike rack. Tonto National Forest employees and volunteers installed these amenities.

Photo of the trailhead for the Arizona Trail.
Figure 16-8--Recreationists access the Arizona
Trail, an 800-mile (1,287-kilometer) nonmotorized
trail, from the Picketpost Trailhead in the Sonoran

The new parking area took advantage of an abandoned loop road, minimizing removal of vegetation. The Arizona Department of Transportation provided remilled asphalt to surface the interior recreation site road and supplied construction equipment and labor to spread the materials. The finished design includes 30 parking spaces for nonequestrian passenger vehicles clustered between shade trees. Two pullthrough parking spaces serve motorhomes and trailers. An area without vegetation accommodates nine pullthrough parking spaces for equestrians. It is separated from the nonequestrian parking area by about 100 feet (30.5 meters) and a buffer of native desert vegetation. The parking areas are surfaced with compacted decomposed granite, which contrasts with the remilled asphalt on the road, helping to define parking areas. The addition of wheel stops at the front of nonequestrian parking spaces helps distinguish visitor parking. Raised lane markers--also called highway bumpers--designate angled equestrian parking spaces.

Drawing of the Picketpost Trailhead.
Figure 16-9--Picketpost Trailhead in the Tonto National Forest. Future plans include
construction of a site host unit, picnic units, and another toilet building.

Drawing of the Picketpost Trailhead. In the drawing the text reads, Interior recreation site road surfaced with remilled asphalt, 10 ft, Existing vegetation, Future toilet building, hitch rail, and bicycle rack, 14 ft, Rail barrier, 20 ft, 28 ft, 70 ft, 150 ft, Equestrain pullthrough parking with decomposed granite surface, Concrete markers, 65 ft, Motorhome parking, hitch rail, Future host site, Parallel equestrian parking, Accessible parking spaces, bicycle rack, toilet building, Wayside exhibit, Information station, Trail access point, Trail, Future picnic unit, Future picnic unit (typical), Nonequestrian parking with decomposed granite surface, Rail barrier, and Concrete wheel stop (typical).

Volunteers from the neighboring Boyce Thompson Arboretum removed all vegetation that would be disturbed during trailhead construction. They placed the plants in pots and transported them to the arboretum for care. At the completion of the project, arboretum representatives and Boy Scouts replanted the salvaged plants during a workday at the new trailhead site. Volunteers also installed the hitch rail and bicycle rack. As a final touch, they constructed a wayside memorial exhibit. Hikers, family members, and Forest Service employees spent a day building a stone bench, installing an interpretive sign, and planting a shade tree. The recreation site is very popular with riders and other nonmotorized trail users.

Photo of a mountain in the background and in the foreground a vault toilet and parking spaces.
Figure 16-10--The toilet building at the Picketpost Trailhead
has two accessible parking spaces.

Photo of pullthrough parking spaces at the Picketpost Trailhead.
Figure 16-11--The campground at the Picketpost Trailhead has
nine pullthrough equestrian parking spaces.

Blue Mountain Horse Trailhead--Lolo National Forest, Missoula, MT

The Blue Mountain Recreation Area is one of three Lolo National Forest recreation areas in the rural-urban interface near Missoula, MT. At Blue Mountain, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) southwest of Missoula, riders, hikers, runners, mountain bikers, dog walkers, folfers (Frisbee golfers), motorcyclists and OHV riders share all or part of the recreation area. This variety, combined with great scenery and the proximity to town, makes the Blue Mountain Horse (or Main) Trailhead very popular, especially in the evenings and on weekends.

The population of Missoula County--about 101,000 in 2005--is rapidly growing. The trailhead parking area (figure 16-12) accommodates 25 to 30 vehicles, including 5 or 6 horse trailers. Facilities include a toilet building, a horse unloading ramp, and a visitor information station (figures 16-13 and 16-14). The parking area is fenced to prevent offroad, motorized vehicles from leaving the trailhead. The parking area, which has little delineation, is full on busy days.

Photo of the parking lot at Blue Mountain Trailhead with multiple parked cars.
Figure 16-12--The parking lot at the Blue Mountain Horse (or
Main) Trailhead does not have delineated parking spaces.

Photo of a toilet building and a loading ramp at Blue Mountain Trailhead.
Figure 16-13--Facilities at the Blue Mountain Horse Trailhead
include a single-user toilet building and a
loading ramp for stock and dogs.

Photo of a visitor information station with maps, signs and brochures for the trail users.
Figure 16-14--The visitor information station provides maps,
signs, and information brochures.

The Forest Service had planned to expand and improve the trailhead for several years. Early in 2004, the Backcountry Horsemen of Missoula offered to help with the work and to submit a National Recreation Trails grant request. Managers viewed the expansion as an opportunity to accommodate increased use, reduce parking congestion, and provide spatial separation between parking for horse trailers and stock trucks and parking for pedestrians and mountain bikers. This project may be completed in stages over several years as funding, partnerships, and volunteer opportunities allow. The acting district ranger issued a memo of decision in May 2004, which is summarized below. Figure 16-15 shows the proposed trailhead expansion plan.

Drawing of the proposed expansion for the Blue Mountain Trailhead.
Figure 16-15--The Blue Mountain Trailhead proposed expansion in the Lolo National Forest. Equestrians park in the lot on the left. Pedestrians and mountain bikers park in the lot on the right.

In the drawing the text reads, Trail B200 reroute location to be staked in the field, New gate, New split rail fence, New trail (typical), Unloading ramp mounting facility, Existing trail, Existing fence, 20 ft, 55 ft radius, Overflow back-in parking, Grass islands, Legend, Existing rock, Existing sign, Existing wood bollard, Existing tree, Existing boards 1 new, 1 existing, New tree locations, 4-5" dia. boulders placed in groups, new hitch rail locations, Note: -Horse user trailhead surfacing is gravel, -Pull-thru horse parking spaces are 18' wide by 45' long, -Use ground level parking dividers, and -Relocate as many trees as possible to new locations.

Issue 1: Capacity--How large should the parking area be?


  • Expand the parking lot to provide 10 to 14 horse trailer parking spaces. Design the horse trailer parking area with pullthrough spaces. Maximize the distance between spaces and install hitch rails.
  • Restrict pavement at the horse parking area. The pedestrian and mountain biker parking area may be paved in the future.
  • Improve the pedestrian and mountain biker parking area for better parking delineation, use patterns, and traffic flow.
  • Restrict the equestrian parking area to vehicles towing and hauling stock. Vehicles towing horse trailers will be prohibited from parking in the pedestrian and mountain biker parking area.

Rationale for this decision: Blue Mountain is the most popular national forest horseback riding area in the Missoula Valley. Having 10 to 14 horse trailer parking spaces would accommodate current use and allow additional use. Expanding beyond 14 spaces may cause the horse parking area to dominate the landscape. Expansion predominantly to the south minimizes the visual effect and maintains the scenic view of Blue Mountain from the county road and trailhead entrance.

Expanding the trailhead will reduce congestion and conflicts between different types of users while improving public safety. Stock and dogs unaccustomed to each other may be a safety concern, so separating equestrian and nonequestrian parking areas reduces the chance of injury to dogs, horses, riders, and others.

Issue 2: Horse Unloading Ramp--Should the Forest Service continue to maintain an unloading ramp?


  • Provide two separate or one shared ramp for stock and dog unloading, depending on how the final trailhead functions.
  • Separate or sign the dog and stock ramps.

Rationale for this decision: When developing the initial proposal, it was assumed that the stock ramp received little or no use, since most people use horse trailers. Additional space could be made available by removing the ramp. However, public comments indicated many people use the ramp for unloading stock or dogs and some people use it to mount their animals, so one or two ramps are planned. The dog ramp may be modified to prevent stock unloading at the pedestrian and mountain biker parking area. Dog unloading will be prohibited in the equestrian parking area. There is a possibility of developing a shared ramp between the equestrian and nonequestrian parking areas. If that isn't feasible, there may be one ramp in the equestrian area and a second ramp in the pedestrian and mountain biker parking area.

Issue 3: Weeds--Can the Forest Service design the trailhead to reduce the spread of invasive plants?


  • Revegetate soil disturbed during expansion.
  • Continue the present mowing, herbicide, weed prevention, and education activities.

Rationale for this decision: There were no public comments, so the present program is maintained.

Issue 4: Design and visual quality--Could the trailhead be designed to be more esthetically pleasing? Could shade be provided during the summer?


  • Revegetate disturbed soil with weed-resistant grasses.
  • Plant a few native conifers.

Rationale for this decision: By keeping the site simple, trail access is limited and the site will not become a picnic area. Minimizing landscaping lowers water consumption, reduces costs, and discourages loitering. It also means there is less vegetation to vandalize.

Issue 5: Security--Can the Forest Service do anything to improve personal and vehicle security at the site?


  • Keep the site relatively open and visible to motorists on the county road.
  • Continue the cooperative patrol agreement between the national forest and the Missoula County sheriff.

Rationale for this decision: Maintaining an open area reduces the chance for theft and vandalism. The county sheriff, Forest Service law enforcement officers, and Forest Service project staff will patrol the trailhead.

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