By Dave Halsey, NOHVCC Contributing Writer

“If you build it, they will come.” While overused and slightly altered, that line from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams certainly applies to adding challenge areas and skills courses to off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails in order to attract new and repeat riders.  Across the country, trail designers are adding higher levels of challenge to trail systems, and doing it in a sustainable manner. Some are challenge loops built off existing trails.  Others are stand-alone skills areas in re-claimed sand pits or mines located next to trails.

In the past few years, this newsletter has reported on a number of new challenge areas built by agencies at the county, state and federal level.  The Axtell Technical Riding Area near McGregor, Minnesota is 40 acres of hill climbs, whoops, bowls, culvert and log crawls, cement-stair and rock crawls, and a mud pit. Built by Aitkin County, it serves as a destination for riders, accessing it from the easy-riding Soo Line North ATV Trail built on an abandoned railroad grade. (See September 2016 newsletter).

In Colorado, the Peach Valley Recreation Area north of Montrose now includes a 3-acre training area and challenge course. It is designed to improve skills of riders from beginner to expert, and introduce them to obstacles they might encounter in the area. Rocks, logs, cobbled turns, a side-hilling area and other obstacles feature easy, intermediate and advanced lanes. Built through a partnership between Colorado and the Bureau of Land Management, it was named the NOHVCC “Success Story of the Year” in 2016. (See November 2016 newsletter)

Challenge areas require quality design and materials

“Challenging trails can provide a boost of fun, excitement, extended seat time, camaraderie and self-confidence,” writes Dick Dufourd in his book “Great Trails: Providing Quality OHV Trails and Experiences”, a resource guide published in 2015 by the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). “However, like the trail system, the development areas need to be designed correctly from the beginning, built with quality materials, and have regular maintenance.”

If your OHV organization or agency is considering building a challenge area, a good place to start your research is Chapter 14 of “Great Trails.” It is 30 pages of instruction, with 70 photos and diagrams illustrating the wide variety of challenge options to add to trail systems.

The title of Section 1 is “Challenge versus Sustainability.” It discusses five ways to create and provide challenge utilizing: 1) natural features, such as rock outcrops, boulders and slab rock; 2) design features, including grade, vertical and horizontal alignment and obstacles; 3) manufactured topographic features: rock pits, quarries, open-pit mines; 4) natural topographic features, areas where open riding is allowed, such as sand dunes, rock knobs and hills; and 5) manufactured design features, much like mountain bike groups have made, including ladder bridges, terrain parks, pump tracks and freeride facilities. 

“Look around,” said Dufourd during a discussion on challenge features at a NOHVCC conference. “Be creative. There is probably material you can use close by, such as logs, stumps, old concrete, even discarded combine or tractor tires.”

 The title of Part 2 of the chapter on Challenges is “Use the trail already there or create a new one?”  Part 3 is “A different approach to challenge,” and discusses ways to remedy the problem of unskilled riders ruining or breaching technical features. They include easy-outs, technical options, and multiple lines so one challenge feature can offer several challenge experiences. Also discussed, is the importance of proper signing for rider information and risk management.

For more information on planning and designing challenge areas, see the “Great Trails” resource guide. You can order copies of the 350-page, fully illustrated “Great Trails” book for $30 each, or download the free PDF versions. To get started, go to this link: