In laying out standards and procedures for trails in the Pisgah Ranger District, it’s important to note that not all trails are managed and maintained to the same specifications. Trails range from highly developed, paved interpretive trails like the Forest Festival Trail at the Cradle of Forestry, to remote wilderness trails that offer challenging terrain and a primitive experience. Understanding precisely which specifications to use for a particular trail means studying a trail’s Class.
Trail Classes are general categories reflecting levels of trail development along a continuum. They range from Class 1 (least developed) to Class 5 (most developed). Maintainers in the Pisgah Ranger District should make it a habit to familiarize themselves with the Class of the particular trail, or trails, that they work on. Then, use the USFS Trail Class Guide to identify the precise specifications on trail characteristics like tread width, brush clearing radius, structure use, and appropriateness of surface obstacles. The goal of this page is to take these somewhat obscure management principles and make them more accessible so that volunteers can maintain trails to their specific class guidelines.
As stated, these are general guidelines that may not perfectly fit every situation on a particular trail in light of trail-specific conditions, topography, or other factors. A trail’s assigned Class is meant to characterize the overall level of development and type of experience desired on that trail. Keep in mind also that regardless of trail class, even the roughest, most primitive trails can be managed sustainably by focusing on tread and drainage management.
Click the link below to download a PDF excerpt from the USFS manual “Trail Fundamentals and Trail Management Objectives” which focuses specifically on Trail Classes.
The pages in the excerpt feature detailed informational tables, including separate specification tables for hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. This guide also includes helpful example photos and descriptions of trails in each Class category. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the general concepts of Trail Classes and try thinking about which Classes might apply to trails you are familiar with.
See the below section for how Trail Classes have been officially designated on the trails within the Pisgah Ranger District.
In addition to understanding a trail’s Class, it is also important to understand its Designed Use. Designed use is defined as the single Managed Use of a trail that requires the most demanding design, construction, and maintenance parameters and that, in conjunction with the applicable Trail Class, determines which Design Parameters will apply to a trail.
Managed Use refers to each single type of use that is allowed on a trail. In the Pisgah Ranger District, managed uses include hiking, biking, and pack-and-saddle. A particular trail can have multiple Managed Uses, but only ONE Designed Use.
- On a trail managed for hiking, biking, and equestrian use, the Designed Use would be Equestrian because it requires the most demanding accommodations from a design perspective (which would include wider tread, higher clearing of vegetation, etc.).
- On a trail managed for hiking and biking only, biking would be the Designed Use.
- On hiking-only trail, hiking would be the Designed Use.
Designed Use, considered in conjunction with Trail Class, determines the design parameters and specifications for maintaining a particular trail.
The spreadsheet below lists every official trail in the Pisgah Ranger District, along with its designated Trail Class. Note that some trails (like the Art Loeb) have multiple classes where they enter and leave designated Wilderness areas.
Use this information in conjunction with the guidance from the above USFS document to guide your decisions and maintenance specifications on specific trails. This information is particularly relevant to tread work, brushing, the decision whether or not to install structures, and what kind of structures to install on a given trail.
If you'd like to download the spreadsheet as a PDF, click HERE.
Trail Fundamentals and Trail Management Objectives - this link opens the full USFS manual, with information beyond the excerpt on Trail Class linked above. Some of the information is not especially relevant to volunteer maintainers, but will be interesting for those who wish to learn more about how trails are managed within USFS.