Vox spoke with research scientist Jeff Marion, PhD to learn more about the strategic designs of seemingly organic hiking trails so that hikers and the surrounding environment remain safe from one another.
When you look at it… It can feel sort of organic. Like nobody in particular decided what it should look like. But behind almost every trail are planners, builders, and designers crafting an experience that gives people a tiny taste of what real wilderness feels like.
While it seems that pathways appear natural, the reality is that water from natural sources requires an ecological plan for successful yet unseen drainage, otherwise, the trail would erode away.
Water is the natural enemy of a manmade trail. It can erode a trail away, make it too muddy to use, or change the shape of it completely. So we try to design trails to be sort of invisible to that water flow and that movement of water across the landscape. So hydrologically invisible.