Trail Design: Alternatives to Asphalt

With the increase in costs and unsustainable nature of petroleum, designers are looking to alternative materials for trail design.

trails, sustainable materials


Charlie Neer


Danielle Capozzi


Brittany Coyle

Asphalt has become the default trail pavement material for a variety of reasons—low cost, smoothness, ease of installation and maintenance repair, and ability to be recycled. However, asphalt is not only toxic and costly, it also begins to thermally degrade in time, needs frequent replacement, exceeds a 140-degree surface temperature in the summer, and is mostly non-permeable.

Due to the aforementioned downfalls of asphalt, designers at WRT have been exploring alternatives in pavement selection, taking into consideration a number of factors for each trail project: the user (walkers, bikers, wheelchairs, and roller-bladers), location (slope, soils, proximity to floodplains, and freeze/thaw cycles) and sustainability (life-cycle cost analysis, heat island effect, permeability, and non-toxicity).

See how several recently-built WRT projects across the country have embraced alternative materials for trail design.