Part of having excellent trails is understanding both the sustainability and the desired experiences of users. Regular condition assessments help us to identify issues with both sustainability and experience in order to build a plan of attack. Assessments allow volunteers to assist in prioritizing and developing a strategy with our land managers for improving existing trails and trail systems.

The US Forest Service partnered with SORBA and IMBA through a cost-share agreement to develop training for both volunteers and Forest Service employees on how to assess the current conditions of trails within our National Forests. This training is for all non-motorized trail users, hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers.

The training was led by IMBA Trail Solutions regarding best practices for assessing trails that are currently in use. IMBA has been at the forefront of sustainable natural surface trails for the last 30 years. Using their extensive knowledge, IMBA trained volunteers and Forest Service employees to properly assess current trail conditions. These assessments will then be used to develop a maintenance plan and program of work to keep the trails in a sustainable condition. Action items identified will help guide the agency and our partners to assist in developing cost estimates for completing the identified work so these trails can be enjoyed for years to come.

25 volunteers and Forest Service employees from across the region went through the training that included two virtual sessions and one field session. We used the incredible Mulberry Gap outside of Ellijay, GA, as a base camp for the training. Participants arrived early to a warm breakfast before heading out in the field to Pinhoti 1, Pinhot 2, and Bear Creek Spur. The trails in the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest had great examples of trails in need of assessment. The students came out of this training with a greater knowledge of how trails erode and what it takes to make them more sustainable in the future.