A project to collect GPS data for the snowmobile trails in St. Paul and the surrounding area will be going forward with the support of St. Paul County council.
The Riverland Recreational Trail Society is working with the company OuterSpatial to make extensive data of trails in the region, including the Iron Horse Trail, easily accessible through an app expected to launch in Canada next spring.
“There are lots of other apps for hiking trails but we went through them all and we had certain parameters that we wanted to be able to do. It mostly revolved around who put in the information and how easy it was correct,” said Marvin Bjornstad, the president of the Riverland Recreational Trail Society.
Bjornstad said the society is working with the snowmobile clubs in the area including St. Paul, Smoky Lake, Bonnyville, and Cold Lake to collect the GPS data for approximately 400 kilometres of trails in the region.
The Society asked the County of St. Paul to provide a staff member to assist with the GPS tracking of the trails. According to information submitted to council, there is approximately 45km of trails around St. Paul and 40km around Elk Point.
According to County of St. Paul CAO Sheila Kitz, after further conversation with the society, administration estimates it would be about $1,000 of staff time to fulfill the request.
“The society has offered to provide the snowmobile for the county staff to ride to be able to collect the data. So it probably would take a day to do the St. Paul trail and a day to do the Elk Point trail,” said Kitz.
Div. 5 Coun. Dale Hedrick said the project is a good one.
“Lots of these snowmobilers if they’re not from the area they don’t know where to go. Whereas if it’s GPSed it makes it a lot easier for them to stay on the trail and not veer off,” said Hedrick. He also noted the opportunity to attract more people to the region for tourism.
According to Bjornstad, the need for more data for tourists is one of the things to come out of their research for the Iron Horse Trail’s strategic plan, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“We need to provide more information for people who are using the trail to plan their trips. Because the trail is almost 300 kilometers long, and it’s not just going from point A to point B. People want to know more about what they can do and this app has ways of providing that information,” said Bjornstad.
He said along with the GPS data of the trail itself, they will include information about staging areas and rest stops, as well as opportunities to buy food or gas, and the best routes from the trail to those amenities in towns. Long term, they plan to include markers along the trail in the app which can provide information about local history or the environment.
According to Bjornstad, their best estimate for use is that on a summer weekend the Iron Horse Trail sees about 3,000 people.
“But that’s hard to get good data on because there’s 20 different staging areas and a hundred roads that cross the trail, so you can’t necessarily count everyone,” he said.
A motion by Div. 1 Coun. Darrell Younghans to collaborate with the Riverland Recreational Trail Society by GPSing the trails carried with unanimous support.