With the support of volunteers and land managers, the Trails Stewardship Initiative is launching our first statewide campaign aiming to update trail information on 60,000+ miles of trails in OpenStreetMap across Utah public lands. Using official or approved trail information from land managers, volunteers will add critical attributes such as public access and allowed use. Through these efforts, navigation apps will be able to better display OpenStreetMap trail data, improving equitable access to the outdoors and the public’s ability to understand and plan for the true nature of a trail system, while protecting our sensitive ecosystems.
As hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts in the United States have come to rely on mobile applications to navigate our public lands, visitors can be led to dangerous or environmentally sensitive areas when these apps include unofficial and unmaintained trails. Many navigation applications pull this trail data from multiple sources and rely heavily on OpenStreetMap data.
Since 2021, the Trails Stewardship Initiative – a coalition of nonprofits, land managers, private companies, concerned citizens, and volunteers – has been working collaboratively to address how navigation applications and other recreation services use and visualize OpenStreetMap trail data. The Trails Stewardship Initiative aims to:
Increase SAFETY for outdoor enthusiasts on public lands
Improve EQUITABLE ACCESS to trails for all citizens
Promote RESPONSIBLE RECREATION for the protection of our natural environment and out of respect for tribal and private lands
A NATIONWIDE VISION
Over the next several years, the Trails Stewardship Initiative will improve and develop workflows to maintain OpenStreetMap trail data across the 800+ million acres of public land in the United States through collaboration with key stakeholders. To achieve this, we’re building:
A THRIVING NATIONAL NETWORK of digital trail stewards to maintain open trail data in the US
Effective TOOLS AND RESOURCES that enable land managers, agencies, community advocates, and OpenStreetMap contributors to work together on trail safety, equitable access, and responsible recreation
A stable and collaborative PARTNER COLLECTIVE of private sector companies, government agencies, and engaged citizens to ensure the long term impact of the Initiative
STARTING THE JOURNEY WITH UTAH
“Dear OpenStreetMap… ….In a time when land stewards including agency employees are struggling to keep up with the mandate to preserve and protect these areas, we face a seemingly insurmountable challenge when unofficial and false information is spread widely through digital sources.”
— Utah Backcountry Coordinator, National Park Service, 2021
Concern over the impact of OpenStreetMap data and mobile app trail navigation on sensitive habitats, protected archaeological sites, and hiker safety in Utah was the catalyst for the Trails Working Group in 2021, leading to the development of the larger Trails Stewardship Initiative. Therefore, it is fitting that we focus the beginning of our nationwide initiative here.
On its own, Utah also provides a compelling proving ground for developing the tools, programming and methodologies necessary to create a repeatable national model. With nearly 37 million acres of public land comprising 70% of the state’s total land area and thousands of public trails, Utah’s mix of uniquely sensitive ecosystems, varied landscapes, and pronounced outdoor recreation tourism makes it an ideal pilot location.
All that being said, improving trail data across public lands in Utah is a massive undertaking. To make sure that our mapping efforts are productive and supporting the aims of the initiative, mapping will be iterative, focusing on one priority area at a time beginning with Bryce Canyon National Park and the public lands surrounding the park. This will allow us to evaluate, pivot, and improve our workflows as we go.
THE FOCUS OF THIS CAMPAIGN
Using the OpenStreetMap US Tasking Manager, volunteers will be tasked with updating attributes of existing trails in OpenStreetMap using official and approved sources. The Utah campaign will focus on improving trail attributes based on the trail tagging guidelines developed as a result of the trails tagging schema pilot in Washington state.
Where official trails are identified in OpenStreetMap, volunteers will be tasked with adding or updating the following attributes:
Trail Operator (i.e. National Park Service)
Access (i.e. private, public)
Allowed Use (i.e. hiking, snowmobile, dogs)
Where volunteers identify unofficial trails, mappers will be instructed to add attributes such as informal=yes and access=private as appropriate. These attributes will support navigation apps in determining which and how trails in OpenStreetMap are displayed to their data consumers.
FIND YOUR PATH TO GET INVOLVED
An OpenStreetMap Contributor?
A trail user concerned or interested in how your favorite public lands are mapped and navigated?
A land manager or volunteer for a trail advocacy group interested in keeping your local trails properly represented on navigation apps?
Whether or not you fall into one or more of these categories, you can help us map & maintain trail data in OpenStreetMap.
Become a Steward by improving the trails you care about in OpenStreetMap. Contribute to our active projects on the Tasking Manager or learn how to improve the attributes for trails near you using this guide.
Keep informed & spread the word! Sign up to receive regular & shareable updates on the Trails Stewardship Initiative.
Invest in the Trails Stewardship Initiative as an individual or an organization to show your support for responsible recreation data.
Celebrate this journey with us at State of the Map US in Salt Lake City June 6-8, 2024. Learn more at sotm.us.
OpenStreetMap US is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization advancing geospatial data democracy in the United States by catalyzing collaborative action around OpenStreetMap between individuals, government agencies, nonprofits, corporations, and academia. Through our grassroots initiatives and community-based programs, we create pathways for all individuals to access and improve OpenStreetMap as it increasingly becomes the source that decision-makers and corporations use to positively impact our lives. Learn more about OpenStreetMap US and its initiatives to improve open trail data in the United States at openstreetmap.us/trails
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