Building New Trail System - Where Do I Even Begin?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Building New Trail System - Where Do I Even Begin?

    I live in a HOA managed neighborhood with about 55 acres of wooded area. Where do I even begin to explore the possibilities of developing a hiking/biking trail system in this area? There are a couple other communities near by with nice trail systems.

    Not even considering funding for a huge project like this yet, would this be something that would need to be approved by the county (park service?) and/or HOA? With trail heads starting in the neighborhood, HOA will definitely need to be involved on this front, but I have no idea where to start. Does anyone have experience with this? Any suggestions about where to begin would be appreciated.

    Thanks

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by tygger View Post
    I live in a HOA managed neighborhood with about 55 acres of wooded area. Where do I even begin to explore the possibilities of developing a hiking/biking trail system in this area? There are a couple other communities near by with nice trail systems.

    Not even considering funding for a huge project like this yet, would this be something that would need to be approved by the county (park service?) and/or HOA? With trail heads starting in the neighborhood, HOA will definitely need to be involved on this front, but I have no idea where to start. Does anyone have experience with this? Any suggestions about where to begin would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    The HOA will need to be involved. You need to know who owns the land in question, so the county GIS is likely to be your first source to identify boundaries and landowners. It's possible that the HOA itself is not the one listed as the owner, so you may need to navigate that system. You'll need to have clear objectives as far as who is permitted to access the trails, and what to do about trailheads or entry points. Chances are, the HOA is not going to permit access to anyone except residents, and there's a good chance that there will never be parking permitted at the trailhead(s).

    My community has a short walking path that's a bit of a loop. My house sits in the middle of that loop and is surrounded on 3 sides by community land. There's maybe 10 acres in total, but most of it has other purposes. There's a community playground/greenspace, a well pumphouse and wellfield, and maybe 3 or 4 acres that's brushy and used for drainage. I have permission from the HOA to put a short path through that drainage area which will connect to the existing walking path and the street by one of the community's dog cleanup stations.

    It's such a small piece of land, my intent is pretty minimal (simple mowed paths, no digging involved), and so all I needed was verbal permission from the HOA board. Building it is going to involve a trimmer, a hand saw and loppers to trim brush, and my lawnmower. I may eventually do things like installing bluebird boxes and whatnot. A lot of people in my neighborhood like nature, and they like walking their dogs. I would bet there's some families who would like to ride their bikes on it, too. But there's only 1 other mountain biker in my neighborhood that I'm aware of. I built a mtb trail in my own yard with mtb specific features on it (berms and rollers, only), so I may be the one who rides it most frequently as a return path. Still, I'm going to make sure it's plenty wide, so it won't be anything exciting.

    Your proposal is a bit bigger, and so I would want to secure written permission from the board, and I would also expect that the board would want a detailed written plan from you. Which, once you have a basic layout concept of the land in question, likely means you're going to have to scout the property in person and go through the trail planning process with identifying control points, developing a plan for the trail itself, including any access points, keeping a buffer from people's yards, and so on. It's entirely possible that the HOA won't want to allow biking on it, so if you know of other mountain bikers (or even just kids/families who would want to ride on it), that may sway the HOA board.

  3. #3
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    Here's a link to the Guidelines for a Quality Trail Experience developed by BLM and IMBA a few years ago. It's a massive download. Lots of detail about getting started in particular in Chapter 5.

    If nothing else it's got some good pictures of trails I ride and have worked on.

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    We have a very similar trail in our area; I was not involved in building it so all I can tell you is the end results. His HOA supported the trail because I remember going to a fund raiser cookout the neighborhood had for the project. They even had an association called the Friends of Ashborough Trail Association (F.A.T.A.S.S.)

    The official rule is neighborhood residents only but the avid local riders use it without a problem. I'm sure if there were people doing stupid crap back there this would change but so far no problems.

    There is no parking so you have to ride to the trail so the number of people who use is limited. They have had trouble keeping the trail open just because there wasn't enough traffic on it but eventually it did become worn in enough to follow without too much trouble.

    I have a personal rule that if I can't get formal permission and a reasonable guaranty that the land will be committed to the trail I don't waste my time. There's nothing more frustrating than working on something only to have the land cleared 2 months later. It's a pain but it's well worth going through the planning and approval process as Harold described.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tygger View Post
    I live in a HOA managed neighborhood with about 55 acres of wooded area. Where do I even begin to explore the possibilities of developing a hiking/biking trail system in this area? There are a couple other communities near by with nice trail systems.
    Lucky you, that's a decent amount of woods.

    Is this owned by the HOA? Are you allowed to walk there? If yes and yes, just start laying out a path and doing some gardening. As long as you are not moving earth and cutting down trees, don't see the problem. If your plans are more ambitious you'll need some approvals which you may or may not get. But it could help your case to have some regular trail users first.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    Lucky you, that's a decent amount of woods.

    Is this owned by the HOA? Are you allowed to walk there? If yes and yes, just start laying out a path and doing some gardening. As long as you are not moving earth and cutting down trees, don't see the problem. If your plans are more ambitious you'll need some approvals which you may or may not get. But it could help your case to have some regular trail users first.
    Uh... no. That is vandalism (legally). Plus, its just being a dick to the HOA & neighbors.

    As others have said, you need to find out the owner first. Many of these types of lots (greenspace) are shared ownership lots (technically undivided ownership). If it is shared ownership, then everyone who has an ownership stake has to agree to the trail. The other common method of doing this is to have the HOA be the single owner as a corporate ownership. If that is the case, it is a majority vote of the HOA to get permission.

    I'll be blunt with you, having done this type work before, one could mess this up at the beginning with the slightest misstep.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CycleKrieg View Post
    Uh... no. That is vandalism (legally). Plus, its just being a dick to the HOA & neighbors.

    As others have said, you need to find out the owner first. Many of these types of lots (greenspace) are shared ownership lots (technically undivided ownership). If it is shared ownership, then everyone who has an ownership stake has to agree to the trail. The other common method of doing this is to have the HOA be the single owner as a corporate ownership. If that is the case, it is a majority vote of the HOA to get permission.

    I'll be blunt with you, having done this type work before, one could mess this up at the beginning with the slightest misstep.
    I'll guess that sapva's never been on a HOA board before.

    HOAs run the gamut, too. Some are big and formal and very, very strict. Others, like mine, are very minimal and informal.

    The absolute starting point is to identify the exact landowner(s). It may not even be the HOA in control of the land. It's entirely possible that the original developer still owns it (maybe the HOA manages it, or not). Or maybe someone else entirely, like some nebulous "trust" that was put in place that could make getting permissions a real adventure. But regardless, since access is being discussed through the community, the HOA needs to be involved in discussions/permissions no matter who actually owns the land. They may have a piece to the puzzle that's essential to the project.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CycleKrieg View Post
    Uh... no. That is vandalism (legally). Plus, its just being a dick to the HOA & neighbors.
    That's a bit melodramatic, a leaf blower and pruner is hardly vandalism. Talking about a natural path through the woods, not a Land of Oz type project. Yes, I have done this sort of thing before in a very informal way. Also talked to the residents that also use and adjoin the common area to see how they felt about it. But anyway, it should take about two minutes to find the property records. Almost every county has a GIS map online now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    That's a bit melodramatic, a leaf blower and pruner is hardly vandalism. Talking about a natural path through the woods, not a Land of Oz type project. Yes, I have done this sort of thing before in a very informal way. Also talked to the residents that also use and adjoin the common area to see how they felt about it. But anyway, it should take about two minutes to find the property records. Almost every county has a GIS map online now.
    legally speaking, he's absolutely right. whether the HOA takes steps to pursue the matter legally is a separate question. Again, depends on how the HOA is structured. some would report you as a trespasser/vandal to the police (and if you are a resident, might issue you a fine). Others might not care. It just depends. talking to the individual residents who live next to the woodlot doesn't count as adequate permission. if you have to cross their property to access the community land, then their explicit permission is a necessary component, but those landowners alone do not control the whole of the community land. I live adjacent to several acres of "community" land and I cannot legally give permission to anyone to do anything on that land. It's not mine to give. The HOA board itself controls the land. I can influence the board's decisions on the matter with my opinions since I live adjacent to the property, but I cannot give or deny permission directly. Large decisions that involve spending notable amounts of the HOA's money (stuff that's not already in the budget) or making large structural changes would require voting by the entire community, but the board can make small operational decisions without posing a vote to the entire community.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    legally speaking, he's absolutely right.
    Feel like quite the rebel now, all I need is a tattoo and a menacing nickname

    A lot of assumptions there. Depends entirely on the HOA use designation (see HOA code and civil code for your state). Obviously you can't ride your bike in the club house after hours. That land could also be exclusive use, or planned development in which case it would be off limits. But more likely, tracts of woodland are designated common areas set aside for hiking, wildlife and other recreation. So full circle, as noted in the first post, if you are allowed to walk there and you are a homeowner, you are not trespassing, much less a vandal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    a lot of assumptions there. Depends entirely on the hoa use designation
    which is why you need to identify the landowner and involve the hoa!

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    Feel like quite the rebel now, all I need is a tattoo and a menacing nickname ... So full circle, as noted in the first post, if you are allowed to walk there and you are a homeowner, you are not trespassing, much less a vandal.
    I think you missed this part of my comment:
    Quote Originally Posted by CycleKrieg View Post
    I'll be blunt with you, having done this type work before, one could mess this up at the beginning with the slightest misstep.
    For public lands, especially lands that are actually private held lands open to the public, perception is reality. The perception of some "trimming" and "digging" by a HOA and neighbors is not going to be <shrugs>. Historically, HOAs are micro-fascism at its finest. Think of how many news stories you see about kids running a lemonade stand getting yelled at by HOA personnel.

    The OP wants to do a thing. Great, there are ways to do it. But it requires a lot of work and tip-toeing into this. Going slow now will work better than slamming a PBR and grabbing a weed whacker.

    To the original poster: If you are interested in doing this, PM and we can set up a Zoom meeting so I can walk you thru this.

  13. #13
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    Trail building in an HOA

    Quote Originally Posted by tygger View Post
    I live in a HOA managed neighborhood with about 55 acres of wooded area. Where do I even begin to explore the possibilities of developing a hiking/biking trail system in this area? There are a couple other communities near by with nice trail systems.

    Not even considering funding for a huge project like this yet, would this be something that would need to be approved by the county (park service?) and/or HOA? With trail heads starting in the neighborhood, HOA will definitely need to be involved on this front, but I have no idea where to start. Does anyone have experience with this? Any suggestions about where to begin would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    Greetings,

    I started a trail project in my HOA two years ago. We have over 100 acres of wooded common land, and the end goal is to connect the associations amenities with singletrack. So far Iíve completed a two mile loop around one of our private lakes. Itís a lot of work, and requires a bit of annual maintenance in the spring, but overall the trail is pretty much self maintaining once itís cleared out, given itís used relatively frequently.

    I began this project with a proposal to the HOAís board of directors. I inquired with the association & maintenance managers, as well as the county fire chief to obtain plat maps, roads, buildings, locations of easements and property lines, and existing trails and oil wells. Once I had the backing of the board and management office, I began with a rake, a chainsaw, and branch trimmers. Occasionally I would have some helpers, but for the most part I worked alone. I donít recommend doing this though- accidents can happen and you donít want to get stuck alone in the woods. the two mile singletrack took a full year to put in. I chose the days I worked on it wisely. I used social media to encourage others to walk the path I worked on in order to tamp it down and make it look more like a trail. Some neighbors pitched in and built birdhouses and trail signs. Itís since become a popular amenity and people love it.

    My advice is to talk with the HOA. Have a plan. Stress the advantages to having a trail system. Make it self-sustaining and low cost. Stay off private property. It may help to designate it multi-use. Homeowners wont complain if it doesnít cost anything or bother anyone. Announce trail work days ahead of time. Check with other associations to find out where trails are being constructed nearby. Network.

    After a year of work on the trail, I recognize the benefits of having professional equipment, such as a Toro Dingo with brush cutter attachment. Be prepared to do the work yourself, but getting people involved is a good way to bring the community together.

    Happy Trails!
    Best of luck!!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    which is why you need to identify the landowner and involve the hoa!
    Thanks. Didn't see that in the last 12 posts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CycleKrieg View Post
    I think you missed this part of my comment:
    Much depends on where you live. Some are fascist organizations, some are bureaucratic black holes that are best avoided as to not waste your time, others are fairly casual or simply don't care enough to address any issue not involving burning something down. Do your research first, talk to home owners, make your own decision.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    Thanks. Didn't see that in the last 12 posts.
    let me illustrate for you. Post 2. First reply. First paragraph.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    The HOA will need to be involved. You need to know who owns the land in question, so the county GIS is likely to be your first source to identify boundaries and landowners. It's possible that the HOA itself is not the one listed as the owner, so you may need to navigate that system. You'll need to have clear objectives as far as who is permitted to access the trails, and what to do about trailheads or entry points. Chances are, the HOA is not going to permit access to anyone except residents, and there's a good chance that there will never be parking permitted at the trailhead(s).

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    That's a bit melodramatic, a leaf blower and pruner is hardly vandalism. Talking about a natural path through the woods, not a Land of Oz type project. Yes, I have done this sort of thing before in a very informal way. Also talked to the residents that also use and adjoin the common area to see how they felt about it. But anyway, it should take about two minutes to find the property records. Almost every county has a GIS map online now.
    I have participated in it both ways. Some with approval and some without approval. It all depends on the HOA board. In a lot of places no one wants to be on the board so you can run, get on the board and give yourself approval. As long as it is a benefit to the community no one (generally) will oppose you. I have seen cases where avid environmentalists will oppose new trail.

    Some of the issues that came up
    1) no trails too close to people's homes
    2) dont do anything to violate endangered species rules
    3) not too much outside traffic. Our trail was black in the first 1/4 mile to discourage outsiders.
    4) if someone reports the work to the city, it could fall under zoning/permitting. In my area on my own land the city got involved with my trails and it got very expensive.

    You will discover lots of people likely have already building trail without HOA approval.

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