Diana DeRubertis has a nice post at Planetizen arguing that there’s been too much focus on providing trails in the wilderness and not enough where people can actually use them, inside parks on walking loops.
The wilderness-like parks seem to be increasingly emphasized at the expense of smaller community parks that provide the right facilities for outdoor exercise. One element overlooked by park planners is the community track or paved walking loop. In the eastern US, many high school tracks are open to the public; they tend to be safe and well-used. Out West, school tracks are unfortunately locked and reserved for student use only. Where school tracks are not an option, walking loops within parks are a good alternative. These can be placed around baseball diamonds, soccer fields, playgrounds and picnic areas.
Because park safety depends largely on visibility, walking loops should be within the sightline of other park users as well as passersby. Ideally, the park would offer a diversity of activities that attract visitors. It would also be large enough for physical activity but not so expansive that people feel lost.
Two parks here in Washington, D.C. have pretty good walking loops — Meridian Hill Park and Lincoln Park, both are rectangular, roughly 10 to 12 acre parks that have circular (or rectangular) paths that people regularly use for exercise (sometimes in groups). Another place for this is on the roads of several parks — for instance, the loop road (shut down to cars) in Denver’s Washington Park is very popular with walkers. But the best example may be Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park. The park was actually once a reservoir with a walking path around it, but when the city covered the reservoir the design kept a walking loop within the only 4-acre site. The gravel path is now a popular piece of this great urban space.