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Contract Assistance

How Do I Write a Good Trail Contract?

We at PTBA are often asked about resources for writing a good, trail specific contract! The challenge comes in ensuring that QUALIFIED trail builders are the only people that bid on a project (versus a road crew that is looking to fill in it's schedule). It is a tough question! With the full understanding that every situation -- agency contracting requirements, trail type, weather, environment -- is very different, we decided to take a stab at answering the question. Here goes...

A good trails contract should include 5 key elements. If you can work the following elements into your contracting template, we believe that you are much more likely to have bidders that are skilled trail builders, and give you a good chance at weeding out a contractor that does not have the trail specific skills necessary for successful completion of a sustainable trail project.

  1. Provide Very Clear Trail Bed and Trail Corridor Specifications - clearly define the trail bed specifications (tread width, grade, x-slope, surface material, firmness and stability), and most importantly, identify the maximum width of the trail corridor (in other words, the footprint of disturbance of the work). This will stop contractors from bringing in a D3 Cat to build a trail with a tread width of only 36", for example.

  2. Ask for bidders to have and use trail specific equipment - Define the maximum width of any construction equipment that would be allowed on the project. For example, if you specify that all equipment used on this project must be 48” maximum width, that would ensure that all bidders have trail specific equipment.

  3. Ask for, and check several trail specific references - Ask bidders to provide the specifications of each past project. Contact the references to ensure that they met the specs fully. You often can not ask questions about their integrity, personality, etc., but you CAN determine what the project specifications were, whether the bidder met the specifications, and how well the trail has stood up to use and weather.

  4. Ask for professional affiliations - Determine if they are members of the Professional Trailbuilders Association (PTBA), or an equivalent organization? This could be a requirement of bidding, or it could simply be informational (or a bonus) in the bidding process.

  5. Seek professional assistance – Many of the PTBA Members and our affiliated colleagues offer consulting services in writing trail contracts. See the Find a Trail Contractor link for more information.


As we said before, every trail and every trail contract are different. So the above suggestions are given in the hope that it can help you to create a better trail contract.  

General Estimates of Trail Costs


by Margie Tatro, Reineke Construction (New Mexico)

When a client asks us “What does it cost to build a trail?”, we say, “It depends.”  Then the dialogue begins regarding terrain, user groups, life cycle costs, amenities, soil types, and most importantly, who owns the risk for the project.   This dialogue elicits important information about the client’s vision, needs, requirements, constraints, and involvement in the project.  After this dialogue and a site visit, we furnish the client with a proposal including cost, schedule and performance elements for the client’s consideration.

A recent PTBA-sponsored Sustainable Trails Workshop in Portland, Oregon, held on May 20-21 provided the opportunity for participants to apply trail construction cost estimating principles to a real project within the City of Portland’s trail network.  The attendees considered cost categories of labor, materials, services, and overhead and examined the risks, assumptions and uncertainties associated with each cost category.  Several cautions or dangers such as generic “dollar per linear foot” quotes, “free” labor,  contractor safety records, equipment logistics, access, unknown field conditions, and weather were also discussed.

Cost estimates for the City of Portland trail construction project varied by more than 100% based on the participants’ assumptions, thus confirming the response to the question about what it costs to construct a trail — IT DEPENDS!  Land managers and trail developers are strongly encouraged to contact a qualified trail professional in their region for trail construction cost estimates. Click here to Find a Trail Contractor in your area.

Some ideas from a long time trail contract specialist

by Mike Shields, Mike Shields Contracting (Alaska)

Very generally speaking, the cost for mechanized trail construction in Alaska runs between $20,000 and $30,000 per mile for 5 to 6-feet-wide ATV trails; hand-labor built trails in the 2 to 3-foot-width range will run about the same (usually they are less work, but labor is more expensive than machinery).  However Alaska construction costs are generally 20% to 25% higher than anything similar in the “Lower 48”, so there, I would anticipate a reasonable bid range between $15,000 and $23,000 per mile.  For example, 4.5 miles could thus come in at $68,000 to $119,000 total (without any change order or actual-measurement additions).

If an organization has limited funds through a grant or program (which is often the case), and the bid comes in at more than the available funding, if it’s not outrageously high you may award the contract for the fundable portion of the trail and apply for a follow-on grant to complete the trail the following year. Negotiation or even rebid of the first contract may be required to pull this off.

A follow-on note:  You’ll want to reserve a portion of the grant funds as a contingency reserve to cover change order work and the fact that actual measurement of completed trail is almost always longer than the original flag-line measurement (4% to 8% more footage is not unusual).  A general standard for the reserve is 10% of the original cost estimate.

Trail Contract Language

Trail Experience and Equipment Restriction Clauses for Trail Contracts, Request for Proposals, and Request for Bids.

Following is a list of clauses that can be included in contracts or quote, bid, or proposal requests that help insure your trail projects are built to the appropriate standard with sensitivity to your site. These are samples and can be used selectively or can be modified. The first, which requires that the project be managed by, overseen, or entirely contracted by a member of the Professional TrailBuilders Association (PTBA), insures that most if not all of the other qualifications are met as PTBA members are screened by current members upon selection to ensure that all members are qualified, knowledgeable, and reputable trail contractors. Our reputation depends on our members performing quality service and satisfying clients.

  • The lead project manager / contractor in the field shall be a member of the Professional Trail Builders Association or demonstrate equivalent experience.

  • The selected contractor shall demonstrate expertise in working within an environmentally sensitive setting and in the construction of nature trails in similar setting and under similar specifications.

  • The selected contractor shall demonstrate experience constructing with [describe materials].

  • [For Design / Build Projects] The selected contractor shall demonstrate significant experience in trail assessments, maintenance, and construction, and will have the ability to diagnose problems and recommend appropriate trail solution prescriptions.

  • Contractor must submit a portfolio of [three to five] projects/jobs, with photos and references, completed within the previous three years, of similar nature and contract amount. At least one of the projects must have been constructed [using a specific material, according to a described specification and/or in a specific environment].

  • The Contractor’s lead project manager in the field shall have received professional trail building instruction (or taught such trainings) with the Professional Trailbuilders Association (PTBA). A minimum of 80 hours of training shall be required.

  • Contractor must demonstrate experience with the following tools and/or equipment:[pick and choose the tools and equipment that apply to your project]

Mini-trail dozers
Mini Excavators
Mini Crawler Carriers
Chainsaw Bucking and Limbing
Felling with a Chainsaw
Cross-cut saw use
Rigging and Highline set-up and operation
Helical Pier Installers

  • Contractor and all contractor’s personnel must have current chainsaw safety training certificate (at least Level I) through the USFS Chainsaw Training, PTBA Chainsaw Training, or the Game of Logging or equivalent.

  • Contractor and all contractor’s personnel must have current Wilderness First Aid certification through the American Red Cross or equivalent.

  • Contractor must submit an Environmental and Safety Management Plan with bid.


  • To minimize environmental impact and to keep the footprint of disturbance within the immediate trail construction area only, construction equipment shall be limited to hand tools or small (mini or micro) walk-behind or ride on mechanized equipment no wider than the desired final trail width.

  • Equipment shall be no wider than the following mini dozers: Ditch Witch SK650 Mini Skid Steer, Sutter 300 and 500, or SWECO 450 and 480; mini excavators shall be of similar width as the mini dozers such as Bobcat 323, Caterpillar 301.6, Kubota U15, etc; tracked mini crawler carriers are also permitted to be used such as Canycom BFP602 or Canycom S100 crawlers. [this list can be modified according to the particular trail].

  • A list of all equipment (make, model, year, and width) to be used on this project must be provided with bid for approval by owner.

  • A list of all equipment operators with hours of experience with each piece of equipment must be supplied with bid.