8.8 Rehabilitate Trails


  • determine which sections of trail should be closed and/or rehabilitated,
  • use one of three basic approaches to rehabilitation,
  • apply rehabilitation techniques suitable for your region.
Decide on an Approach to Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation pertains to repairing and or revegetating both new and existing trails. Design new trails to minimize disturbed areas. Assess rehabilitation requirements for new trails at the design stage and salvage native plant material for transplanting during construction.

Assess rehabilitation requirements on existing trails by measuring criteria such as the amount of braided trail, the use of short-cuts, the length of wet and muddy sections, the depth of tread below the native sod layer, and disturbance to areas adjacent to trails.

Revegetation in many parks will be particularly difficult above tree line, while some sites may suffer from thin or droughty soils, winds, or heavy use. A short growing season, strong winds, thin or compacted infertile soils, and difficult maintenance conditions are some of the general constraints to revegetation in parks. A successful revegetation program will:

  • set overall management objectives with respect to revegetation,
  • weigh the cost of revegetation options against the likely long term success,
  • assess and design each site with respect to local conditions,
  • integrate rehabilitation into overall site design and use,
  • evaluate the success of each revegetation technique.
Select the most suitable rehabilitation technique from a continuum of three basic choices (adapted from Hingston, 1982):
  1. 1. Do nothing except close disturbed areas; hope for natural revegetation.
  2. 2. Improve site soil conditions, close area; hopefor improved natural revegetation.
  3. 3. Improve site soil conditions and intervene with revegetation; hope for successful plant establishment to provide rapid results.
All three approaches have some application to different sites, each with a different cost and result, as shown in Table 10.

Table 10: Comparison of Rehabilitation Options
A: Rest the site

- close site,
- wait for natural revegetation,

B: Improve conditions

- close site,
- scarify soil,
- place logs and brush to improve chance for natural revegetation,
- consider fertilizer,
-consider mulch to improve chance of seed establishment

C: Intervene on site

- close site,
- scarify soil,
- seed or transplant with native species
- consider fertilizer,
- water the site
- consider mulch

- poor success rate
-very slow natural revegetation
- good success rate,
- will take time,
-good success rate,
- immediate results,
- may be risky on sub-alpine sites,
- no maintenance, - low maintenace,
- needs long closure from use,
- needs maintenace,
- needs long closure from use,
-low cost, - moderate cost, - high cost,
- could be used on braided trails where there is no soil, - sutiable on some sub-alpine sites,
- may be best option for cost effect,
- suitable where there is source of native plandts nearby, or where vegetation will be cleared nearby,
- water supply needed,

Consider Rehabilitation Options

  • Use the technique best suited to each site. Option B is often the most cost effective with the least risk. Use an opportunistic approach that would use Option C methods if suitable conditions exist, when money, labour and plant material is available during site upgrading.

  • Plan the rehabilitation carefully, assessing suitable species (eg. rooting habit, nutrient and soil needs, resistance to trampling), soil preparation, planting techniques, fertilizer or water needs, mulches, wildlife impacts, season and weather for revegetation, and maintenance.

  • Educate the public about rehabilitation efforts to avoid trampling of closed areas.

  • Make a commitment to maintain rehabilitated sites as needed, and monitor the success of each project.
Use Proven Rehabilitation Techniques
  • Consider rehabilitation only where this will not conflict with preservation of artifacts or other heritage resources.

  • Use rehabilitation techniques known to work in very tough low maintenance situations.

  • Try to rehabilitate in the fall, when plants are dormant, and to allow good growing conditions when there is plenty of spring soil moisture. Transplanted native sod plugs will have up to a month of growing in late spring and early summer before peak hiking season begins. Transplant during cloudy or wet weather.

  • Rely on natural revegetation of prepared soil surface if local or imported native plants are not available.

  • Prepare the soil by hand scarifying compacted areas. Allow natural reseeding to occur where transplanting will not be done; scarify to 5-10cm.

  • Control erosion from scarified rehabilitation sites. Consider using mulch to reduce erosion and improve the soil water retention capacity. Watch for contaminating weed species in mulch, and avoid using wood byproducts unless prepared to add nitrogen fertilizer.

  • Place rotting logs or brush on rehabilitation sites both to control traffic and provide an ongoing source of soil nutrients.

  • Use local or imported native plants and seeds to rehabilitate sites. Avoid using plant material from sites with different microclimates or elevations. Use only plants adapted to the site. Select species with compact roots, that are resistant to trampling, and are known to be pioneer species suited to disturbed sites.

  • Salvage native plant material from any sites to be cleared, use this material for rehabilitation on adjacent sites; salvage plugs of native material up to .5m in diameter to increase success rate. Include all forest litter in plug transplant.

  • When doing trail work, salvage native sod for use in transplanting into braids designated for closure.

  • Dig up material for transplanting carefully, and replant as soon as possible, take as much native soil with the plug or raft of material as possible.

  • If limited rafts or plugs of native material are available, space them out in the rehabilitation area, and allow for natural in-filling.

  • Leave a small depression around the transplanted plug to collect any rainfall.

  • Water rehabilitation sites thoroughly after planting, and periodically, if possible, the following growing season.

  • Consider the use "please water me" signs in remote areas.

  • Consider using slow release organic fertilizers when transplanting plants. Fertilizers pollute, and may not improve survival of transplanted native material. They may be more effective in promoting natural revegetation on a scarified site.

  • Ensure use of rehabilitated sites is eliminated, by placing appropriate barriers, signs, and or providing educational material at the trailhead.

  • Monitor the success of rehabilitation efforts.