Trails Are Going High Tech. Are You Ready?

By Travis Smith, Ph.D. | Posted on October 28, 2014

At the conclusion of another successful NRPA Congress, we find ourselves thinking about the future. What does the park of the future look like? 

One thing is certain: great parks must serve visitors digitally as well as they serve them physically.  

People expect to get information they need in the snap of their fingers, and in the palm of their hands. A park experience must be excellent before, during and after a visit.

Blog-Open-Trails-Data-Helps-Agencies-Create-Apps-MapsThat’s why the National Recreation and Park Association has been participating in the development of OpenTrails, an open data format for publishing trail maps across the web. OpenTrails is designed to help you take your existing GIS data—which is hopefully already in the PRORAGIS format—and make it useable in mobile apps, web maps and more. 

If you’ve got a trail system in your region, the future is here. When your trails and trailheads are represented in OpenTrails, you can easily combine your data with other nearby departments or agencies—making it possible to give visitors a single map or app for your entire region, at a fraction of the cost. It’s more than that though—it’s a way to make sure that when your citizens are searching online they’re finding accurate and timely information about your trails and access points.

Now, Trailhead Labs is running the OpenTrails Course, a 3-week training that will get your department or agency ready to publish OpenTrails in your own maps or apps. You’ll get hands on assistance from experts, evaluation, and access to open source tools. The OpenTrails Course, begins on November 5 and NRPA members will receive a 30 percent discount on registration. This is a great time to get started on OpenTrails so your maps, apps and more are ready for the spring season. Trailhead Labs even has a newsletter you can sign up to receive to stay updated on information about Open Trails data.  

NRPA has worked with an entire community of trail stewards and technology experts to develop OpenTrails. Our partners include ESRI, the Trust for Public Land, Code for America, GreenInfo Network and Trailhead Labs, among many others. 

We’re dedicated to helping you build the parks of the future. Excellent digital experiences built on open data are part of that future. Stay tuned for more about OpenTrails—I’m sure we’ll have many stories to tell in Las Vegas in 2015.

How will open trail data impact the future of your trails?  What is one way you are leveraging technology to help improve the experience of citizens in your parks, facilities and trails? Share in the comments below or tweet us @NRPA_News


Travis Smith, Ph.D., is NRPA's vice president of research.