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The Beaten Path.

I get asked a lot to design gravel walking surfaces.  First off, the distinction between gravel and aggregate.  We use terms like gravel and aggregate as a catch-all for compacted or loose material walking surfaces.  These are great for quick reference, but can be confusing when specifying a particular material.  Being specific is important.  For instance, do you want a tightly compacted 2a limestone with #10s and a binder?  What about decomposed granite chips?  How about asphalt millings?  These aggregates are composed of completely different material but to the untrained eye, can be mistaken as just “gravel”.  The proper choice of material starts with the function of the path.  Will it be an accessible route?  Is it temporary?  Is it a long term solution?  Who will be walking here?  Is it in a flood plain?  What is the topography like?

Drainage is a big concern for gravel walking surfaces.  There should always be a slope to the surface, preferably a crown in the center like a road.  Depending on the wearing material (what you walk on), there may also need to be additional drainage controls to divert water before it gains too much speed.  This is especially true when using edge restraints that help contain material that easily migrates.  Area drains and trench drains can be helpful in areas where the path transitions to a steep slope and high water velocity has the potential to take material along for the ride.

Routine maintenance is important for aesthetics and functionality of gravel walking trails.  Spring with introduce many weeds in the pathway.  Contrary to popular belief, weed barriers/filter fabric do little to prevent weed growth and I don’t recommend using them in gravel walking trails.  Annual pulling and approved usage of herbicide are good methods to reduce seasonal weed growth.  

The Bottom Line

  • Gravel walking trails are a good semi-previous alternative to asphalt and concrete.  Depending of the composition and depth, these surfaces can sometimes be more expensive than their counterparts.  Make sure it is the right application for your project.
  • The biggest issue facing gravel walking trails is stormwater.  There are various solutions for effectively mitigating runoff.
  • Routine maintenance is necessary for a fully functional trial.
  • Walking trails must adhere to ADA maximum slope requirements.