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The trim trail. A circuit of exercise equipment spread throughout a park or path, for visitors to undertake regulated exercise upon. Derived from the military assault-course training technique, the trim trail was very much in vogue in the 1970s and 80s. Whilst they’re not quite the in-thing any more, there are still plenty of them around. The Ranger has an unreasonable, irrational hatred of this stalwart of municipal open space. My colleagues are probably sick of hearing me ranting against them – and of politely failing to hear my querulous demands to rip the things out of my parks. I mean, how bad can they be? Well, here are my four objections to trim trails.
One. Trim trials take up a lot of space, and are intrusive. Whilst it is possible to have the whole course over a short distance, invariably that’s not the way they are used in public places. Perhaps it’s because like that it looks too much like its progenitor, the assault course. Whatever. A typical trim trial looks unattractive in the landscape and distributes that unattractiveness widely. Particularly galling are trim trail set-ups which go alongside a well-used country track or path – it means that those who use the path for other reasons are forced to look at the thing. Not fair.
Two. Trim trails are an expensive, hardware-based solution to a soft, landscape-based problem. A quick scan through Google shows, at the time of writing, eight out of the top ten entries for ‘trim trail’ are companies selling them. It’s so tempting, as a land managing authority faced with a big expanse of parkland or countryside, to think that what it needs is ‘stuff’, and quickly. Trim trails are classic ‘stuff’ – unlike trees, floral displays and and wildlife habitats you can look in a catalogue and see what you’re going to get. You can buy it online without even seeing it. It can be installed quickly, you don’t have to wait for it to grow, and people will be pleased that their park has ‘stuff’ in it that previously wasn’t there. But in the longer term it may not be the right thing. I can’t emphasise enough how uncomfortable I am with that approach to landscape. It’s perhaps not a fault of the trials themselves, but trim trails usually – although not always – indicate a simplistic and superficial consideration of what’s right for that particular park. A more in-depth assessment is likely to come up with something less structured, and more individual to that location. In this context, a lot of contemporary commercially-available play equipment can also be accused of the same failings. Pleasingly, the recent government play funding initiative Playbuilder is also directing grant recipients along those lines, discouraging traditional off-the-shelf play units and play structures for more specifically created ‘play landscapes’.
Three. People don’t actually use trim trails very much. Seriously, they don’t. How often have you seen anyone using a trim trail? I’d guess at half-a-dozen times, for myself. Doubtless there are many good examples of trim trails being well used, but in my experience there are many more of them standing idle. Why is this? Partly it’s to do with our general problem with exercise – we just don’t like to do it. So giving more opportunities for exercise is a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily. A problem is that those who do use trim trails are also not the people who perhaps would most benefit. Trim trails are a formal, structured type of exercise similar to gym machines. They provide instructions to be followed, expect regular use, and come with warnings and caveats. So basically, they appeal to the organised, the systematic, the dedicated and the literate. The sort of people who do use trim trails are probably already familiar with the similar discipline of the indoor gym. Trim trails do not reach out and persuade people to do exercise, although they certainly provide opportunities for those who already do exercise to do so outdoors.
Four. Trim trails are just so finger-waggingly smug. Sure, I’m a chap who could doubtless benefit from more aerobic exercise. But goodness knows I know that well enough as it is. I enjoy a good walk in the park or the countryside, but whilst I’m there I just don’t want to be pestered about how much better it would be if I stripped down to my singlet and stepped on and off a beam or something. Now don’t go thinking I’m against exercise, or even against formal exercise structures in parks. Far from it. I’d like to see more people exercising on my sites, and I suspect most park managers would too. But there are many better, more diverse, more creative ways to encourage people to exercise sustainably in parks and the countryside – we shouldn’t just go for the immediate and obvious ‘one size fits all’ solution.