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close this bookTeaching Conservation in Developing Nations (Peace Corps)
close this folderAppendix B: Nature Trails
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPurpose of a Natural Trail
View the documentCharacteristic of a Nature Trail
View the documentConstructing a nature trail
View the documentFeatures proposed for labeling and explanation along a nature trail in South East Asia
View the documentSource materials - Appendix B

Constructing a nature trail

Where to Put a Nature Trail

1. Study what the land is like for about one square kilometer or more around the conservation center. Walk through all the land and follow any paths or trails which may exist. Make a list of all the interesting natural or historic features. (See the list of suggested items to feature at the end of this section). Mark these features on a simple hand-drawn map and arrange the trail contour to coincide roughly with them.

2. Mark all features that might be included on the trail with strips of bright ribbon, yarn, cloth or plastic. Connect the items with string to create a rough trail design.

3. Walk this rough trail to see approximately how long it will take. Remember that the visitors will walk slowly and will spend time reading the labels at each stop. Re-arrange the way the string runs in order to get the best trail layout.

Note that nature trails are different from usual trails in that they go to places not normally visited by local residents. For this reason, it is generally best to cut an entirely new trail rather than to put together pieces of old trails. Having a separate nature trail eliminates confusion with old or unmarked trails.

How to Build the Nature Trail

1. Clear the walking area of all obstacles on the trail (roots, stumps, rocks, etc.) and cut back over-hanging branches to a height of 2.5m. Leave any cleared items which could have interpretive use alongside the trail.

How to Build the Nature Trail - Example 1

2. Cut the trail wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side. (This should be about 1.3m). Be sure visitors will have safe footing. Where clearing exposes erosion problems, control measures should be taken such as planting a ground cover, or filling a depression with gravel.

3. Make the trail with curves. The purpose is not to reach the next stop as quickly as possible, but to learn about the area. A winding trail gives visitors a sense of discovery. A straight stretch in the trail should not be more than 25 meters.

4. Plan each stop so it is out of sight of the others. If visitors see the next stop, they tend to hurry to it rather than observing their surroundings.

5. Clear an area around each label or numbered marker so that visitors can gather around if a teacher or guide has comments to make.

6. Avoid trails that double back. While curves are good, do not make them so sharp that they double back on themselves in a sharp "5" pattern. Visitors will cut new paths that destroy natural vegetation and contribute to erosion.

7. Avoid steep and tiring trails in hilly or mountainous areas; careful planning is necessary so as not to discourage walkers. If there are short sections of steep trails, a series of steps can make walking easier.

How to Build the Nature Trail - Example 2

8. The trail must drain well. In places where the ground is hilly, the trail should slope a little to the downhill side so that water will run off, rather than down, the trail.


Place drains across the trails where water collects or crosses the trail during a rain. (Dig a shallow trench and line it with small stones, or use small logs a few inches apart to make a water channel, and fasten them down with wooden pegs).

9. In damp areas such as near a marsh, or stream bed, raise the trail with additional soil or build a raised walkway. A split log or bamboo crossing may be used for a small wet spot. Stepping stones are not good because they become slippery. Building a raised trail is extra work, but a wet, muddy trail will probably not be used at all.

Shallow trench

10. In sandy or marshy situations, to avoid disturbing the area, a raised wooden or bamboo walkway should be provided.


11. Where the trail may erode, or where walking would be difficult, you can cover the trail surface with any of the following, if available: pine needles, wood chips, sawdust, shredded bark, sand. These make good walking surfaces and will not cut shoes.

12. Where there is a nice view, a beautiful tree, or other special feature, clear a rest spot for a simple bench.

Simple bench

Public Facilities (See Appendix E for instructions)

The public facilities you provide at a Nature Trail depend on your budget, the numbers of visitors you expect, and the facilities that exist near-by. You may only need one or two rest stops, or you may need to provide a picnic area or a public toilet near the nature trail.

To give visitors a place to enjoy the beauties of the trail, try to provide a rest stop where there is a view, an ancient tree, or an interesting rock formation, for example. A bench of native stone or wood, or a seat cut into a rock, can provide a place to admire these things and rest for a tired walker.

Rest stop

If you are going to provide picnic facilities at a nature trail, it is a good idea to place them in an attractive area near the entrance to the trail. This way food and waste can be kept in one easy-to-clean place. The picnic area can be very simple: just cleared ground, shaded by trees or woven branches; it can include logs or rocks to sit on; or it can have tables with benches. This depends on the natural materials available and the cultural habits of the visitors. If they are likely to make a fire, provide a safe place for one. In every case, provide enough garbage cans, each one with a sign ("Please put garbage here"), and empty them frequently to avoid odors and animal and insect scavengers.


Allow 8 picas
Margin to bind

When there are no other near-by latrine facilities and visitor use is heavy, a latrine should be provided so that pollution of the site does not occur. It should be located near, but not at, the trail entrance. Building materials for the latrine shelter should blend with the surroundings. (See Appendix E, Public Facilities).

Trail Signs, Labels and Guides (See Appendix D for instructions)

1. The trail will need a trail entrance sign to give the visitor an idea of what is ahead. It could indicate:

- a map of the trail with its length in meters or kilometers;
- the location of special attractions on the trail;
- regulations ("please stay on the trail´', "do not disturb plants or animals").

Nature trail


You will also need signs where two trails meet, to give distances or the direction to follow.

2. Features on the trail need labels to tell names, characteristics, relationships, habitat, or historical background. Labels must be:

- accurate
- interesting
- short
- easy to read and understand

The lettered label should be mounted on simple stakes at the trailside. A label could also be tied to a branch, with raffia or string, of a tree, shrub, or vine being identified. Care must be taken not to damage the surroundings with labels, Nailing a label directly to a tree, for example, would allow insects or bacteria to enter the tree through the nail holes.

Visitors can immediately spot the feature which is being identified if you mark both the feature and its label with a dot of colored paint.

Wild Grape

3. You may choose a printed guide to interpret the trail rather than labels. Make these guides available at the start of the trail in a covered box, to be returned to the box when visitors have finished walking the trail. The items described in the guide would be numbered to correspond in sequence with numbered markers on the trail. Pictures, drawings or diagrams can accompany the text, to help the visitor. About 15 to 20 items are enough for interpretation.

One or more sheets of letter paper can be mimeographed, folded or stapled to make booklets.


Sample guides are included in this Appendix and in Appendix D.

4. Trails may include some of the following features for identification and labelling:

- historic features such as an abandoned mill or farm building, a bridge, dam, mine or site of earlier civilization;
- a grassy area - the way plants are adapted to sun;
- a brush area - new plants moving into area that was open;
- a sandy area - how poor soil has few plants, how plants hold sand in place;
- deep forest - layers of vegetation, young and old trees;
- a rotting log - making new soil, home for insects, animals and fungi;
- a rock with lichens - breaking rock down into new soil;
- leaves rotting on forest floor -making new soil, homes for insects and animals;
- the favorite plant of one insect -eating plant's leaves, laying eggs on plant;
- vines - how they climb, how animals use them;
- a cave - how it was formed, home for animal, earlier humans;
- a salt lick - value to animals, use to poachers;
- a rock outcrop - animal homes, kind of rock, how it was formed;
- stream bed - water life: plants, insects, fish, erosion;
- bee, wasp, ant or termite nest - how it is made, community work;
- desert plants - who lives on them, who eats them;
- feeding areas - do footprints tell which animals come?
- a road or trail cut - the soil profile can be seen;
- nests in trees - animal or bird?
- a hole in the ground - is it a home?
- roots around an exposed rock - how the plant seed grew there;
- roots in loose soil - how they hold the soil together;
- spring - how water collects underground;
- a bump on a tree (burl) - why did it form? its effect on the tree;
- a bent tree trunk - how sunlight forms growth;
- a hollow tree - what happened? Who uses it?
- leaf size - adaptation to light;
- a parasite plant - how it kills;
- buttress roots - how tree adapts to shallow soil;
- thorns on bushes and seeds- protection, transportation;
- ferns and mosses - where they grow and why;
- air plants/orchids - where they grow and why;
- cacti - where they grow and why.