Trails Go Digital
In 2006 the Town of Manchester, Conn., with a $10,000 grant, decided to produce a document titled “Trail Mix--A Guide to Manchester’s Trails and Pathways.” Collaborating with local and state health departments, the parks and recreation department enlisted the aid of several groups to provide some insight for the document. East Coast Greenway Alliance, Manchester Conservation Commission, and the Hockanum River Linear Park Commission were exceptionally helpful. Only 10 years before, Manchester was recognized as one of the country’s top ten “Trail Towns” by the American Hiking Society. After months of meetings, collection of GPS data, photography, edits, and re-edits, 15,000 copies of the 52-page trail guide were ready.
Now, 8 years later, only a few of the 15,000 trail guides remain, so the town decided it was time to have more guides printed. After only a couple of brief meetings with town officials, it was decided that the new printing would also include an “upgrade,” with an online at-home version and one that can be viewed on a smartphone while on the trails and pathways, including interactive maps with GPS capabilities to track a hiker’s progress. Paper trail guides were still preferred by many (5,000 copies were printed during this 2014 update), but there was now a new and exciting interactive way for trail users to obtain information through the creation of a mobile site. There was all of the info found in the trail guide, plus features like an emergency button, GPS location, trail alerts, and many other neat features. And these digital features were free to an unlimited number of users.
Working with a local mobile app company that specializes in encouraging people to become more physically active, the town now provides an opportunity for community residents, residents from other communities, and visitors to explore the trails online at home to map out a planned hike, walk, bike, or run, or to utilize a number of features while on the trail.
The updated “Trail Mix” guides were ready for distribution, and the trail app was ready to use for Connecticut Trails Day on June 7. That day participants in a local 6th-grade after-school program called FLASH (Friends Learning Athletics, Service & Health), run by the recreation department, went on a guided hike up Case Mountain to celebrate the new releases. Some participants won T-shirts, water bottles, and waterproof ID cases as part of the celebration. During the previous school year FLASH participants and staff had helped gather trail information, historical facts, and photography on the Manchester trails that was included in the trail guide.
Looking To The Future
This fall the parks and recreation department will work with local schools to create a program to encourage kids and their families to visit the local trails and utilize the web app. Making this information easily accessible will enable even more people to get out and explore the exciting trails that their town has to offer.
Despite the mistaken belief that technology can produce lazy people, “going digital” can actually connect us to, or even enhance our outdoor experiences. The trail guide can be viewed on our website at www.mytowntrails.com/manchesterct. Happy trails!
Rob Topliff, the Recreation Supervisor of the Town of Manchester, Conn., may be reached by phone (860-647-3079) or by the internet (recreation.townofmanchester.org or www.facebook.com/ManchesterRecreation).