College of Natural Resources project will give bird's eye view of state's trail system

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 19, 2007 – Virginia is rich in bike and hiking trails, yet there is no seamless, statewide database that would ensure efficient planning and public access.

But this will change soon as a statewide project is set to create an Internet-based digital repository of existing and planned bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including bike lanes, hiking, and horseback riding trails.

The project is coordinated by two professors from the Department of Forestry in the College of Natural Resources and a researcher from Virginia Tech’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology. It is funded by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

“Currently, information on bicycle and pedestrian facilities comes to us from many different sources and in many different formats, making statewide planning analysis extremely time consuming and difficult,” explains Kimberly Spence, statewide planning programs manager at VDOT.

Additionally, county and even city boundaries act as barriers against future planning and expansion. “Many times, the information about trails or bike routes that span several counties is cut off at the county boundaries,” says one of the project initiators, John McGee, assistant professor of forestry and geospatial extension specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension. “This means that you cannot gain a regional perspective of the trail and bike route systems, which makes planning very difficult.”

McGee and his team will convert the available bike and pedestrian infrastructure information into a standard, seamless digital format. This innovative digital database will be provided to statewide decision makers and later to Virginians via a web-based Geographic Information System (GIS) application. GIS is a technology that links physical features on the earth to a database of their descriptions, locations, and characteristics.

“The initial application will allow decision makers to zoom into a specific area, add aerial photography and potentially other map data as a “backdrop,” or quickly obtain information such length or width for a specific segment of the bike or pedestrian infrastructure,” explains McGee.

In the future, and as funding allows, the web-based GIS application can be extended and adapted to public use, so anyone will be able to go online, find the desired bike, hiking or horseback riding trail, and then print a detailed map. “This is where you can really begin to dream, as we could potentially enhance the public web application to include nearby facilities such as campgrounds, pet friendly areas, restaurants, lodging, and other businesses,” says McGee.

The project is in line with the College of Natural Resources’ sustained engagement toward establishing a “green” dialogue between various state departments regarding the best environmental practices for the Commonwealth, and Virginia Cooperative Extension’s efforts to foster and provide planning and management tools for citizens.