Iowa Trails 2000

Chapter Four - Section 6
Support Services

Besides the trail itself, there are other facilities that increase the quality of the user experience. These amenities are collectively known as support services, and they fall into three general types.

  • Trailheads and access points
  • Rest areas
  • Interpretive facilities

The importance of these facilities is sometimes overlooked, but they should be incorporated into the initial and final planning of all trail projects. The quantity, spacing, specific facilities, and size of these support facilities will vary depending on a trail's proximity to cities and towns, the traffic volume of the trail, the type of use, and environmental considerations. The following guidelines give a general overview of what and how many support services should be included in trail projects, but each project must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the best balance of facilities and cost.

Trailheads and Access Points

Trailheads refer to parcels specifically designed as primary means of accessing a trail. They may include restrooms, maps, parking, picnic facilities, and other recreational amenities. Access points refer to minor connections between the trail and nearby parks, communities, or roadways. Access points are important because many trails will run for long stretches surrounded by private property, and access should be provided wherever possible, but controlled so that ad hoc trails do not occur on private land. Some access points are automatic, such as when a trail crosses a roadway, and others may be carefully planned and implemented, such as a connection to a trail which would require a railroad crossing.

When developing trailheads and access points, it is important that designers recognize that people with disabilities enjoy all types of trails in addition to pedestrian facilities and hiking trails. Furthermore, people with disabilities participate in trail activities at a wide range of skill levels. Therefore it is recommended that an accessible pathway be provided to all trailheads and access points, regardless of the permitted use modes. Furthermore, built facilities, such as restrooms and parking lots, should be designed according to the ADA accessibility guidelines.

The following guidelines relate to the development and placement of trailheads and access points.

  • Trailheads should be placed at each terminus of a trail corridor, and any place where a large concentration of trail users is expected, such as at towns or major parks along the trail.
  • An accessible pathway should be developed that connects parking and other accessible elements to the trailhead.
  • Trailheads should at least include parking and a trail map, but may also include restrooms, drinking water, picnic facilities, horse tie-ups, and other recreational amenities.
  • Trailheads associated with equestrian, snowmobile, OHV, and motorcycle trails should provide parking and turn-around space for trailers, and snowmobile trailheads should be cleared of snow.
  • Trail access points should be placed wherever trail access is expected, such as at adjacent communities, schools, commercial areas, and parks.
  • Trail access points should include signage identifying the trail (see "Signage"), and may include a map and drinking water. Limited parking may also be included, but because trail access points are designed to give access from local amenities to the trail, it may be unnecessary.
Rest Areas

Rest areas are generally small support facilities located along a trail, which do not provide access to surrounding amenities. Rest areas are places to stop and rest off the main traveled way of the trail. They may also serve as interpretive areas or overlooks. The design of rest areas can be as varied as the trail modes they serve, and the specific design at each location should be considered individually. The following guidelines set forth some general recommendations regarding trail rest areas.

  • Trail rest areas should at least include a seating area and a place to park the trail vehicle (snowmobile, bicycle, horse, etc.). They may also include drinking water, restroom facilities, and signage. Rest areas on equestrian trails should include hitching posts.
  • Trail rest areas should be located approximately every half hour of travel time. The distance between rest areas is dictated by the use modes on the trail.
  • Trail rest areas should be located after any prolonged uphill slope, especially for bicycle and walking trails.
Interpretive Facilities

Part of the draw to a trail is to gain an understanding of the environment through which it passes. Many trails will offer the opportunity to educate the user on various aspects of the landscape, including native plants and animals, geologic history, local history, and local economy. Interpretive facilities should offer a view of the item to be interpreted, whether that be the agricultural landscape in general or a specific type of tree. Some trails may capitalize on many interpretive opportunities, while others may offer them as educational diversions incorporated into rest areas. Each trail's interpretive program is different and the extent of interpretation should be based on the use of the trail, with interpretation facilities decreasing as user speeds increase. The following guidelines offer some general suggestions regarding interpretive facilities.

  • Interpretive facilities should include signage with ample graphics, to engage users of all ages. They may also include any of the rest area facilities listed above.
  • Consideration should be given to providing interpretive information in a format that is accessible to people with vision impairments and people with limited English skills. This may include providing objects that can be examined or manipulated, or providing audio information in addition to written information.
  • Interpretive facilities should be placed wherever there is a significant cultural, historical, or natural phenomenon.
  • Small interpretive facilities may be implemented more frequently if user speeds are low, as on walking/hiking trails.

Signage increases safety and comfort on trails. The inclusion of signage on trails is an important amenity not to be overlooked. Signs may assist in the navigation of a trail or trail system, warn of approaching roadway crossings, regulate trail use, or interpret natural features. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration is an invaluable reference for standard signage. Whereas this document is generally geared for roadway use, many of the signs may be adapted for trail use. In addition, the signs listed in the MUTCD are an industry standard and can be easily fabricated. There are five basic types of signs.

  • Directional signs give street names, trail names, direction arrows, mileage to points of interest, and other navigational information.
  • Cautionary signs warn of upcoming roadway crossings, steep grades, blind curves, and other potential trail hazards.
  • Regulatory signs tell the "rules of the trail" by prohibiting certain uses or controlling direction of travel.
  • Interpretive signs offer educational information on the trail environment (these are covered in further detail under "Interpretive Facilities").
  • Objective signs provide information about the actual trail conditions, including grade, cross slope, surface, clear trail width and obstacle height. This allows users to make more informed decisions about which trails best meet their trail needs and abilities. For example, a wheelchair user may be able to travel over very steep grades provided the trail is at least 36 inches wide. Learning this information at the trailhead will help this user avoid the potential frustration of having to turn back if the trail becomes too narrow.

Signage at roadway crossings is covered in "At-Grade Crossings." Other regulatory, cautionary, and directional signs should be placed as needed. The inclusion of signage in a trail project should be planned from the outset, but each project is vastly different, and signage should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The following guidelines relate to the general placement and design of trail signage.

  • Signs should be placed where they will be clearly visible. Placement is dependent on the sight lines (relative to user speed) of each trail.
  • Signs should be placed at a constant distance from the trail edge, 3 feet 6 inches is preferred.
  • Lettering less than two inches in height is not recommended for directional signs.
  • Text should be avoided on regulatory or cautionary signs wherever possible.
  • Multiple signs may be mounted on the same post, but the primary message should be in the top position on the post.

As discussed under "Snowmobile Trails", the Department of Natural Resources has developed standard signage for snowmobile trails. This removable signage should be used in locations where snowmobile trails are not used in the summer. If the snowmobile trail is shared by other uses, permanent signage should be installed. This permanent signage may be supplemented with removable seasonal snowmobile signage, if necessary.

Designation of Canoe Routes

The Department of Natural Resources has been active in the inventory of state recreational water resources and the establishment of canoe routes. Canoe routes should be designed to offer the safe and reliable passage of a canoe or kayak. Routes may offer trips of varying lengths, from day trips to multi-day overnight excursions.

The primary considerations in the designation of canoe routes include adequate signage and support facilities, and the reasonable expectation that the waterway can accommodate small watercraft most of the time. The following guidelines describe the minimum level of development of a canoe route to accommodate the needs of canoe and kayak use:

  • Access points (landings) should be situated at maximum intervals of 5 miles.
  • Camping and sanitary facilities should be situated at maximum intervals of 20 miles.
  • Portages should be kept to a minimum, but, where required, should consist of established landings and a well-drained, natural surface trail that is free from branches, brush, or other obstacles.
  • Accurate information on the route should be available, including river maps, mileage between services, level of difficulty, and current water levels. This information should be updated frequently.
  • Signage should be included to direct users to the river, and to inform users on the river. Uniform directional signage should be placed on nearby roadways to advertise landing locations. Uniform signage should be installed along the river to advertise landings, camping facilities, portages, and hazards.