Published: Friday, April 25, 2008
By Lauren Ober
Free Press Staff Writer
Nearly every day, an out-of-stater looking to visit Burlington calls one of the local bike shops and ask what trails to ride. The employees are accommodating and send the tourists in the direction of the Waterfront bike path or one of the many mountain bike trials in the county.
But in our digital world, where seemingly everything we need to know is a mouse-click away, directions over the phone just don't seem to cut it. Those looking for information want the one-stop shopping convenience of the Internet.
Local Motion, an area bicycling advocacy group, understood that people needed an up-to-date trail resource. After three years in development, the organization recently launched Trail Finder, a comprehensive Web-based mapping system of all the public recreation trails in Chittenden County. The launch appropriately coincided with Earth Day.
Up until now, no such resource existed on the Web for trails in Chittenden County. There were piecemeal trail guides on various municipal and mountain biking Web sites, but there were no sites that compiled all the trails in the county. A comprehensive Web resource like this was essential for the recreational future of the region, said Chapin Spencer, executive director of Local Motion.
"It seemed from every angle the critical thing to do," Spencer said. "Residents were asking for it and we realized we needed to take the bull by the horns."
The mission of the Trail Finder project is three-fold, Spencer said. This free service makes the community healthier, strengthens the local tourism economy and helps better connect the trails in the county to achieve a true regional network, he said.
To develop such a labor-intensive project, Local Motion needed the services of an Internet-savvy young person, so they hired Todd Taylor fresh out of University of Vermont. Taylor was charged with coordinating the efforts of 50 volunteers and 40 community partners to map the trails and make the site user-friendly.
Over the past three years, bands of volunteers have ridden, walked, cross-country skied and snowshoed every public trail in the county while taking GPS readings, snapping photos and writing down notable features of the trails. Because there is no real county government, the Local Motion folks had to work directly with each individual town to find the trails.
The $25,000 project was funded largely with grants from the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization, as well as the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation's Vermont Recreation Trails Program and donations from Local Motion members. Spencer said the price tag was cheap when compared with the $2,500 they spend each year printing just one of the many trail route maps they provide.
The site is about as user-friendly as the Internet can get. Simply type in the name of a town and find out all the trails there. Or click on the drop-down menu to search by trail use.
A quick search of Williston brings up six trails whose uses range from gentle cross-country skiing to strenuous mountain biking. Each of the trail listings comes with directions to the trailhead as well as a description of the terrain. The listings also provide contact information for the trail managers and a place for users to comment on the trails.
The Trail Finder project couldn't have come at a better time, says Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. With tourism expected to grow substantially this summer, Torti says the Web site will prove invaluable for visitors looking to participate in recreational activities in the area.
"We are very excited about this program. We can promote it and sell it, and it'll be a huge boon for this area," Torti said.
The SkiRack in Burlington, which has underwritten part of the Trail Finder cost, is one of those bike shops where tourists come to get trail information. People are always coming in asking where to ride, says Spike Clayton, one of the co-owners of the shop. Clayton sees the Web site not only as an important community resource, but also as a good investment of their marketing dollars.
"I'm wowed at what's at people's fingertips," Clayton said. "We're totally excited about it."
The maps on the current Trail Finder site (www.localmotion.org/trails) are only the first phase of the project. The organization has recently received funding to start the second phase of the initiative, which will include mapping on-road cycling routes around the county and off-road cycling routes beyond Chittenden County. Taylor, who designed the mapping system, says this resource was totally unique in the state.
"This covers the whole breadth," Taylor said. "We think it will be really popular."
Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Web: www.localmotion.org/trails