Discouraging Desire

“For many types of vegetation, as few as 15 people per year walking along the same route leave a discernible path.”

Walking sociably two or more abreast, avoiding mud on a well worn path, exploring the edges of existing paths—all contribute to the break down and widening of existing paths. Erosion breeds further erosion. A visible path attracts further use.

In some notable areas, such as Scarfell Pike in the Peak District, a single footstep into the peat soil can destroy decades of slow creation.

Fencing, vegetation, signage—all are techniques to block the creation of desire paths. But social trails still puncture these barriers. Fences are climbed, hedges are cut, signage is ignored.

“Minimum impact techniques are quick to adapt to changing conditions. Visitors must consider the variables of each place—soil, vegetation, wildlife, moisture, the amount and type of use the area receives, and the overall effect of their own use —and then use their judgement to determine which practices to apply.”

Good path design limits use of barriers and restrictions—objects which are often seen as a challenge to be overcome—instead using physical design and persuasion to encourage users to make less destructive choices. Well-planned paths and simple well-placed explanation of the need to adhere to existing routes are more effective and less invasive.

Hampton, Bruce and David Cole (1988) “Soft Paths” Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. ISBN 0-8117-2234-1

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