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  • Writer's pictureRandy Martin

Technology For Preliminary Trail Design

Trailscape uses a blend of technology, data, and expertise in our trail designs and builds. This harmony and balance allows us to create a custom trail experience for each of our client's unique needs. In this blog post, we'll be describing how we create a preliminary plan in Google Earth and how that translates to the end result.


Every property has its own unique set of physical and geographical characteristics. In addition, each of our property owners have their personal needs and desires. Therefore, honoring the land and the homeowner requires careful consideration when designing and building a trail.

The first step in any build is to contact us and schedule an initial conversation where we assess and discuss the preliminary stages of design. Check out the video below where owner, Randy Martin, discusses this initial conversation with Luxe Magazine.

Once we have a good understanding of the users, activity level, types of trail usage, family make up by age, and adrenaline threshold we then look to technology to support the next step of design.

To keep this process a more simplified process, we'll be giving an example of one of our Californian clients. However, the process is roughly the same for our clients in Montana and other western states.

Step 1: Locate Property

First, we locate the property in “CalTopo” to find the property lines. A subscription to this service allows us to obtain parcel data as well as topographic lines in Google Earth. This allows us to then transfer the property lines to Google Earth.

Step 2: Transfer Property Lines to Google Earth

With our property lines now in Google Earth, we know what is in and what is out side the boundaries.

Google Earth image of land with trail lines

Step 3: Locate Areas For the Trail to Meander

As we use those property lines, we are able to discover areas of property that will provide an exciting thrill for a biker, a beautiful vista for a hiker, good workout for a runner or a nice ride on horseback. Depending upon what type of user will be on the trail is how we adjust our user's experience.

Step 4: Identify Average Side Slope

As we create experiences for the user, we are careful to identify the average side slope. The side slope tells us the steepness of the hill, the rise over run. It is important to know this data in order to design the trail according to what the property owner would like to experience. Detecting the side slope also helps us know how likely the final trail will look compared to the original concept. The steeper the land to more we expect it to be different.

Trail with grid lines showing how it rises and runs

Step 5: Verify Average Grade Rise and Run

We believe that trails can be a legacy that families will cherish as they're passed down from generation to generation. In order to ensure this longevity, it is our goal to create sustainable trails and protect the land. Accurate rise and run calculations allow us to build solid trails, with adequate drainage and minimal soil erosion.

Step 6: Test Computer Design Concept

Now comes the fun part where our trail builders head out to our client's property and test the computer design against the actual land using Gaia GPS. The Gaia program will track, record and create a basic map based on our actual walk of the proposed trail. This is a critical step as we get a clear understanding of steepness of slopes, banks, creek, crossings, forest density, etc. It allows us to find opportunities and constraints of the land that may not have been visible in Google Earth.

Step 7: Adjust Preliminary Computer Design With Updated Finding in the Field

Once our trail builders have walked the initial trail they bring their findings back to the office and we adjust the plan on the computer. From here, we can create a preliminary plan and work with the client to adjust the scope the preliminary estimate according to their needs and wishes.

The plan we present to the client is the combination of our initial client conversation, the client's preferences, as well as the opportunities and constraints of the land.

Meandering trail under a limb

Are You Ready To Build Your Own Trail?

Give us a call at (530) 852-5155, email or fill out this quick form and we will get in touch with you to schedule our initial conversation.

Trailscape Crew

Randy Martin Expert & Exclusive California Trail Builder Hundreds of Miles of Trails Designed and Constructed for Private Land Owners


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