IMBA seeks to map every U.S. mountain biking trail

October 2012 » Columns » GIS SOLUTIONS
Jeffrey Yoders

The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has been creating, protecting, and enhancing great bike trail experiences since 1988. The education and advocacy association has 90 chapters across the United States and Canada and has even more affiliated clubs that maintain trails in some of the last remaining uncharted parts of the remote United States.

The International Mountain Biking Association is using ArcGIS Online to share its national GIS database with local chapters.

Leslie Kehmeier, a longtime GIS professional who previously worked as a GIS manager for the county of Eagle, Colo., joined IMBA in 2009 as an independent contractor helping with GIS projects and was brought on early this year as a full-time mapping specialist. She is in charge of the organization's national mapping initiative and is using ArcGIS Desktop to map the majority of the organization's location-based information, including trails. IMBA is also using ArcGIS Online to share its burgeoning national GIS database with IMBA chapters.

"Many chapters have trails information, including maps that they use on their websites," Kehmeier said, "so we hope to work with them to post on IMBA.com while we create a framework for them to submit maps for a GIS Database of the entire United States at first, then North America, and eventually the world."

Trails built by IMBA and its local clubs are typically open to everyone and free to ride. Too often, however, these valuable trails are simply not publicized enough and bike riders, even IMBA members, do not know they exist. IMBA relies on guidebook authors and anonymous online sources to spread the word about trail accomplishments, putting together a proper database of trail data was the impetus behind the mapping initiative.

"You have to have a level of vetting and curation for all of the trails," Kehmeier said. "We have relationships with land agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, so we have to make sure the trails data that comes in is part of a system and is correct. That's where we're relying on our local chapters. You can't get better information than from the people on the ground that use it.

"That's why the chapters are so important," Kehmeier said. "Across the country you will have areas where there is already a lot of data; you just have to talk to the right people. In other areas there is no mapping data whatsoever and we have to train the local chapters to go out and do inventory of their trails."

Working with regional directors and chapters to send in accurate data, Kehmeier said they should start to see some mapping results that can be uploaded to www.imba.com by the end of the year and have most of the U.S. basemap completed in three to five years. IMBA is already using ArcGIS Online to overlay individual trail basemaps with demographic information such as median household income in the area and average age and gender of residents to understand more about IMBA's members and where to target future chapter membership. IMBA is also looking for technology partners to use open server space to help house the sheer amount of data that a national trails database will require.

As attributes, Kehmeier said chapters are being asked to add basic trail information and ride guide information such as difficulty of the trail, evenness and type of terrain, and other attributes.

"People want to know the experience," she said. "Green, blue, and black can mean very different things in different areas so we want these maps to accurately reflect the riding experience. That's where maps can be valuable. We will be posting any and all information that helps people have a good trails experience."

View an example of mapping training using the Black Trail Canyon at www.imba.com/resources/maps/success-story-mapping-black-canyon-trail Video of an interactive map created from the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew Program is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzQ0v2ro3mM Read the complete article at www.zweigwhite.com/GISSolutions


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