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Trail centres for outdoor sports

featured in sb magazine 4 2021
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New kind of sports facility to get more people more active

featured in sb magazine 4/2021

Guest author: Casper Lindemann, Sports Facility Consultant, Sports Confederation of Denmark

The trail centres for outdoor sports are being developed with the vision of creating a sports facility for all kinds of sports in parks and natural areas. They bring together many functions in one place in one centre. It is a type of facility that completely rethinks sports communities and brings athletes together in a new way across all kinds of sports, and combines sports associations with self-organised athletes.

Activities in nature are booming at the moment. More and more people are using nature as a setting for their exercises. In essence, nature has become the preferred place for adults to exercise. There is however a general lack of sports facilities in parks and natural areas. Many running clubs, orienteering clubs, MTB clubs and cycling clubs meet in car parks, where they only have to make do with tables and benches or a simple shelter as a starting point for their activities. These are simply the only meeting places available in parks and in nature. Some athletes arrange to meet at petrol stations. Here they can wait for each other sheltered from the weather, buy energy drinks, pump up their tyres and wash their bike. But it is not a perfect solution. Petrol stations are often located far away from the activity areas and they do not fit in the scheme for sport clubs.


photo: Tina Liv

The development project must be inspiring


photo: Tina Liv

The growing need for sports facilities and sports meeting places in parks and natural areas is the foundation for the Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) getting the idea in 2016 to develop trail centres for outdoor sports. Since then, the trail centre concept has become a joint development project together with the Danish Foundation for Culture and Sports Facilities (LOA) and a number of munici­palities and other stakeholders.

The development project includes concept development and evaluation of the concept by building five very different trail centres in five very different settings, i.e. an urban setting, a rural setting, in a private forest, a ­municipal park, publicly funded centres and privately funded centres. In this way, the development project comes with different solutions and gains experience with different methods and different challenges. Common to the five trail centres that are being built is the fact that they are being developed and built on the basis of an extensive development process with the involvement of local sports clubs and local citizens. The process, which includes four to five workshops, must ensure a dialogue between the architects and the users to ensure the right architectural solutions. But it should also give the users ownership and ensure a feeling of community between the different sports.

Activity and meeting places for outdoor sports


photo: Ulf Elbrønd

The overall concept for the trail centres is that they should be a kind of combined clubhouse, storage room and meeting place in nature, close to forests, water, trails and routes. The trail centres will function as service buildings and meeting places for all kinds of outdoor sports, regardless of whether you want to run, cycle, rollerskate, sail or swim. This is where you start and end your exercising, catch your breath, eat an energy bar, share natural experiences, discuss exercises and be inspired by all kinds of sports. It is a meeting place for mountain bikers who can also pump up their tyres before the trip, for runners who can stretch out after a run, for roller skiers who can briefly put their gear aside and have a sip of water, for orienteers to discuss route choices after exercising, and for many, many other athletes.

Imagine a place buzzing with life and you will be motivated and inspired by the other users of the trail centre. People come to train and exercise throughout the day, so there is always someone to talk to, whether you are going for keep-fit exercises in a group, or just want to get in that extra training on your own.

Many functions in one place


photo: Tina Liv

The trail centres must be usable by organised sports associations, by local citizens, by tourists and everyone else who exercises in nature. In this way, the trail centres challenge the traditional organisational principles and break away from the classic distinction between self-organised sports and sports associations. At the trail centres you can meet with people from all kinds of sports and get information about the various sports opportunities in the area, for example, information on running routes, MTB tracks and orienteering points. Trail centres will also house a common room for sports clubs, a storage room for storing gear and a covered activity area, which is open to everyone around the clock. The activity area can be used for things such as training exercises, stretching and meeting before and after exercising.

At the trail centres, service facilities must also be established for the athletes, e.g. route descriptions, changing facilities, lockers, drinking fountains and a washing area for rinsing a bike or a pushchair. At some trail centres there will also be equipment rooms where you can borrow equipment for various sports e.g. maps and compasses, roller skates, roller skis, mountain bikes, SUP-boards, or kayaks. Visitors and passers-by can spontaneously and easily try out the various sports.


photo: Tina Liv

In order to ensure successful trail centres the project members have developed a number of minimum criteria for the location and design of the trail centres as well as criteria for what presented information and which service functions trail centres should accommodate as a minimum:

  • located at the centre of a varied range of trails, routes, and tracks that are preferably marked
  • situated in an interesting park area, terrain, landscape or natural area
  • information about e.g. the routes’ terrain, length, ­degree of difficulty, changes in altitude
  • parking spaces
  • a common room that all sports associations can use
  • a covered area for e.g. gatherings, warm-up stretches, abdominal exercises
  • a good range of relevant service functions

Developing trail centres for outdoor sports


photo: Ulf Elbrønd

Trail centers have different purposes:

  • To achieve more social coexistence and a better mutual understanding across the different user groups and hence fewer conflicts between the user groups.
  • To develop a facility that meets the needs of many different user groups with reference to service functions by bringing together all relevant service functions in one location.
  • To contribute to more people (including children) becoming active in sports and exercising by inspiring them to exercise in nature and to make it easier, more social, more pleasant, more comfortable and more “safe”.
  • To make athletes, exercisers and outdoor people more aware of, and more interested in, nature and the landscape that forms the framework of their activities.
  • To inspire others to establish high-quality trail centres based on the above goals.

The DIF’s and the LOA’s grand vision of developing trail centres is to inspire decision-makers within sports and nature. In the longer term, it is therefore hoped that trail centres will become a common and widespread sports facility in parks and natural areas throughout Denmark.

The first trail centre for outdoor sports was built in 2020


photo: Ulf Elbrønd

The first of the five trail centres in the development project was built last year in an urban setting. The trail centre is located in the city of Kolding in the southern part of Denmark. It connects the city and nature, and the building’s architect has aimed to create a gateway from the city to nature. With its location in the city, but on the edge of a large river valley, the building has both physically and mentally become a gateway to the area’s trails and active nature experiences.

The common room is equipped with a kitchen, sofas, meeting tables and a projector. The service building is furnished with showers, changing rooms and a storage room. Both the common room and the service building are established under one roof, separated by a lobby. The lobby is the heart of the place – a space for everyone – with public access to the service building and controlled access to the club facilities. The building is designed so that it complements the surroundings from all sides, with space for diverse development opportunities and gatherings. Under the awning you can try out Denmark’s longest climbing frame, on the approximately 35 m long monkey bar course. Exercising on stairs takes place over the service building.

In the entryway, you also find the staircases. This leads up to a covered terrace with further access to another staircase towards the south side’s fitness area and the woodland leading towards the river valley. Under the stairs is storage space. Toilets and showers are located under the terrace. Opposite the stairs in the entryway there is access to the club room. The room is double height with access to a loft, from which there is a view from under the roof to the terrace and to nature. The staircases can be used for both educational purposes and instruction of groups, for relaxation and for stair jumping and other plyometric exercises.

The building is constructed with a load-bearing steel frame and wooden roof construction, with a steel roof and board-clad facades. In the choice of materials and design, robust, practical and functional solutions have been incorporated. The materials used can withstand wear and tear, and daily life with wet and dirty running shoes.

Experiences from the trail centre in Kolding


illustration: Tegnestuen Mejeriet

So far, we have had very good experiences from the trail centre in Kolding. You often hear about conflicts between user groups in nature, or about clubs that do not want to share facilities. But during the development process in Kolding, all sports associations and other users have contributed constructively, and throughout the process there has been a really good dialogue and mutual understanding between the user groups.

The trail centre in Kolding has already become popular. It is used both as a starting point for outdoor sports on trails and routes in the area, and for sports activities at the trail centre itself, for example for TRX, Crossfit and OCR. But also many indoor sports have opened up to using the trail centre and have moved their training out to the trail centre, where there is fresh air and which is open 24/7. For example, the local boxing club has moved their boxing training out to the trail centre, whilst others have moved yoga and fitness out there.

The trail centre in Kolding has therefore developed into a common sports facility and a meeting place both for outdoor sports and for other sports activities.We hope to see more children at the trail centre. So far, the users are primarily adults. But our idea of making a trail centre in an urban setting is to give children and younger people the opportunity to walk or cycle to the trail centre and therefore make outdoor sports a real opportunity for children.

Facts about the development project

The project is a partnership between The Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) and The Danish Foundation for Culture and Sports Facilities (LOA). The project started in 2017. Five different types of trail centres are to be devel­oped and built in different sizes and in very different settings. The first trail centre was built in 2020 in the city of Kolding, and in 2021 two more trail centres will be built in the cities of Silkeborg and Svendborg.

The project development is financed by the DIF and the LOA. The construction cost for the individual trail centres is financed locally by builders with co-financing from the LOA. Construction costs are expected to be around 1/4 million Euro for the small trail centres and up to 1 million Euro for the large trail centres.

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