Australian Walking Track Grading System
In 2006 the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) received funding under the Victorian Government's Go For Your Life initiative (aimed at developing stronger, healthier communities through promoting healthy eating and increased participation in physical activity) to develop a uniform walking track grading system. With walking being such a popular activity across all Australia’s forests and parks, it was decided to work towards developing an Australian Walking Track Grading System, in partnership with the other States and Territories.
After three years of collaborative research and discussion, in 2010 a proposed Australian Walking Track Grading System was developed. This system has now been endorsed by Parks Forum (the peak body for park management organisations) as a voluntary industry standard.
The new grading system, the research that underpins it and information to support its use is explained in more detail below.
Background to the Australian Walking Track Grading SystemThe Australian Walking Track Grading System is a technique for uniformly grading walking tracks and communicating that grade to the walking public. Over the course of 2007 to 2010 DEPI worked with State and Territory land management agencies to design a grading system that could be nationally adopted. The system explained here was given its first public presentation at Park Victoria's Healthy Parks Healthy People Congress in Melbourne 13 April 2010. The Grading System has been endorsed by Parks Forum as a voluntary industry standard and they have recommended the Grading System for adoption amongst its members.
The aim of the Australian Walking Track Grading System is to encourage people who are not regular or confident bushwalkers to get out there and give it a go. It is specifically designed to reassure entry level walkers, particularly the disabled or people walking with children, that a particular track is suitable for their skill level.
Under the new system, walking trails are graded on a difficulty scale from grades one to five.
- Grade One is suitable for the disabled with assistance
- Grade Two is suitable for families with young children
- Grade Three is recommended for people with some bushwalking experience
- Grade Four is recommended for experienced bushwalkers, and
- Grade Five is recommended for very experienced bushwalkers
Why we need an Australian Walking Track Grading SystemThere is an Australian Standard for walking trail construction (AS 2156.1), however there is no nationally consistent system to grade the level of difficulty of the track walking experience and then to clearly communicate that information to walkers. Track grading is a primary means of informing people about the features of walking tracks, for them to gauge whether a particular walking track is suitable for them. It also assists in the marketing and promotion of walking as a leisure activity. As detailed in the report Overview of Existing Walking Trail Classification Systems the grading systems applied to walking tracks and the information conveyed to walkers varied considerably between States and Territories and even between different land managers within States. The lack of consistent standards for walking track grading make it difficult for the public to choose walking tracks that are suitable to their skills and level of fitness. Where grades vary, are confusing or are poorly understood, it can act as a deterrent to people undertaking walks, particularly to less confident and able walkers. The lack of an agreed grading system (which addresses signage, track rating and degree of difficulty) limits the accessibility and use of walking tracks for recreation and physical activity.
As our research demonstrated, walkers at all levels of ability clearly indicated their need for clear, concise and comprehensive information to guide their choice of walk. A walking track grading system that meets the needs of walkers also has clear benefits to land managers responsible for walking track networks as it will assist people with little or no bushwalking experience to make informed choices and it will help to prevent inadvertent or ill-informed use of more difficult tracks.
How the Australian Walking Track Grading System was developedIn January 2008 a Technical Reference Group made up of representatives of all the State and Territory park management agencies was created to guide the development of the technical aspects of the development of a new walking track grading system. Three major studies, focus group studies across Australia and nearly 1900 consumer interviews were commissioned to answer one question. What information do people considering going walking actually want? 97.3% of respondents said the grading system proposed here would enable them to decide if a walk was the right level of difficulty for them. Such a high figure is very suggestive that the eight attributes selected are indeed those needed for a national walking track grading system.
The key research documents are attached below:
- Overview of Existing Walking Trail Classification Systems (accessible version) Alvaro Alrias - March 2007
- Walking Tracks Classification System – A Report of Research Findings (accessible version) Market Solutions - September 2007
- Consumer Input into a national walking Track Classification System (accessible version) Instinct and Reason. February 2009
Based on this research into what information walkers wanted, DEPI (through the national Technical Reference Group) developed a discussion paper (below) which made recommendations on what a national walking track grading system should be and how it should work.
Discussion paperAs at July 2010, the Australian Walking Track Grading System has been endorsed as a voluntary industry standard by Parks Forum. In Victoria, DEPI will be piloting the roll-out of the new grading system. The system has been adopted by a number of Australian States and Territories and is under active consideration by other land management agencies and by Local Government. Initial feedback has been very positive and we hope to see the system more broadly used across Australia in the years to come.
Parks Forum have taken on the ongoing management of the grading system for the industry and is a key contact for those considering adopting the system. They will also be promoting the system through their website to promote its adoption amongst their members.
It should be noted that due to the cost of changing over to a new grading system, implementation is likely to be gradual. DEPI has committed to rolling out the Australian Walking Track Grading System across the network of State forest walking trails. Funding has been committed over the next four years (2010/11 to 2013/14) under the Victorian Government's Go For Your Life Initiative to commence this roll-out. For information on the roll-out of the new Australian Walking Track Grading system in your area, please contact your relevant local land manager.
The grading system operates at two distinct tiers.
|1.||A technical grading of the walk where the land manager determines the walk’s grade of difficulty using a set of technical questions based on the Australian Standard 2156.1-2001 Walking Tracks - Classification and Signage; and
|2.||A ‘plain English language’ description to describe the walk to the public.|
An explanation of how to grade a walking track using the new standard is detailed in the attached brochure:
Users guide to the Australian Walking Track Grading System
Users guide to the Australian Walking Track Grading System (accessible version)
An Excel spreadsheet has been developed to assist land managers in first technically grading a walk and then converting this technical grade into plain English descriptions for use in brochures, interpretative boards and on walking track signs. To use this spreadsheet, follow these steps:
|1.||First open Excel and set your macros security level to Medium - Otherwise the spreadsheet won't work. To do this, in Excel select Tools/Macro/Security and set Security Level to Medium. You can then open the Walking Track Grading Calculator
|2.||Select the technical descriptions that apply to the walk you wish to grade for each of the grade categories. The spreadsheet will then automatically calculate the walk’s grade, as well as provide you with the walk’s plain English descriptions (which are derived from the technical descriptions you previously selected).
|3.||When you have finished grading the walk using the spreadsheet, click on the 'Copy to new Workbook' button to save the grading information to a new file.|
More detailed information is included in the calculator, under the worksheet tab entitled 'Worksheet Instructions'.
For further information on the Australian Walking Track Grading System or on how to use the Walking Track Grading Calculator, please contact Richard.Wadsworth@dse.vic.gov.au
When grading walks please note the following:
- Time is shown differently for different grades of walk - this is based on research which showed that walkers have different requirements for how time should be displayed, depending on what grade walk they are attempting
- It is not intended that the full suite of plain English descriptions be provided on trackhead signs alone. As detailed in the discussion paper for the Australian Walking Track Grading System below, if it is not practical to provide the full suite of information to walkers at the start of the track, the minimum that should be provided is the symbol identifying the grade of walk (difficulty) and the actual walk distance. The other key elements (gradient, quality of path, quality or markings, experience required, time and steps) may be effectively delivered in pre-visit information such as brochures, information boards and via the Internet.
DEPI roll-out of new grading systemDEPI is currently regrading its State forest walking track network, consistent with the new grading system. We expect that the regrading and re-signing of the track network, as well as the updating of our internet content and Forests Note information sheets will take five or more years. Over the next four years, we will focus on our more highly used and accessible tracks and expect to have the first hundred walking tracks re-signed with updated brochures by the end of 2014. The first walking track to have been re-graded is the Whipstick Loop Walk. Below is an image of the newly installed sign which includes the symbol showing the walk's grade as well as information on its distance, time to complete, gradient and quality of path.
Additional information on the quality of marking, steps and experience required is provided in our pre-visit Forests Note information series.
The Forests Note on Whipstick Loop Walk provides an example of how this additional information may be provided.
Whipstick Loop Walk
Whipstick Loop Walk (accessible version - without map)
The grading symbols for use on trackhead signs are included below in both EPS and JPG format.
If you are having trouble accessing the individual EPS files (EPS files not supported by some browsers), please download the files from the attached ZIP file.
Walking Grade Symbols
Please note: Document(s) on this page are presented in PDF format. If you do not have the Adobe Reader, you can download a copy free from the Adobe web site.