source: Times Union.com
Student researchers are shuffling through thousands of pages from hundreds of trailhead sign-in logs to transform information penciled in by hikers into sophisticated maps that could help manage, protect and market New York’s 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.
The overall goal is to develop a comprehensive computer-based map system containing information about the plants, animals, land, water, roads, buildings and other aspects of the park to inform the land-use planning required by state law to protect the Adirondacks.
“Knowing how recreational use distributes across the park can help us make more fine-tuned decisions about how to reach sustainability in the Adirondacks in terms of community development, recreation management and tourism,” said Abigail Larkin, a doctoral student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry who’s leading the trail project.
The Department of Environmental Conservation will use the digitized trail-use data in land-management decisions. Larkin and other scientists at the college will use it in future research projects. And local and regional economic development officials and tourism businesses plan to use it in decisions about scheduling events and targeting marketing programs.
Trail registers are kept in wooden kiosks at 269 trailheads on state Forest Preserve land in the park, which is a patchwork of public and private land. The main reason for the logbooks is for safety; if a hiker is reported missing, rangers can check trail registers to see if the person signed in and out.
A hiker signs in with name, address, contact number, number of people in the group, destination and estimated length of stay. There’s also a space to check off to show the hiker has made it back out.
Larkin and four student interns are working full time this summer at the college’s Adirondack research center in Newcomb, collecting boxes of 2012 trail register pages from various DEC offices and scanning them into a computer. Then they’re typing information from the registers into a geographic database program. Names aren’t recorded; only date, home city and state, number in group, destination and length of stay.
Some trails have hundreds of register pages per year, with 40 entries per sheet. Less popular trails may have only one page for the whole year.
While only 2012 records are being compiled this year, project leaders plan to select trails for additional long-term data collection going back to 2000 to provide a basis for analyzing recreation trends over the past decade.
“Most parks don’t have any hard data about how people are using trails and other infrastructure, but in the Adirondacks we have all these trail registers with decades of data,” said Colin Beier, an ecologist at the research center.