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In the Fall of 2018, the USGS received the initial request from DOI to explore the development of a tool to assist in connecting existing trail systems.  

An initial proof of concept was developed by the National Geospatial Program.  The idea was to use existing digital trails data aggregated by the USGS and to identify gaps between those trails using an automated process.  The result would be a ranked list of candidate or “connector” trails.   

Based on DOI acceptance and interest in this proof of concept, the USGS, with assistance from Esri, proceeded to develop a stand-alone prototype system that included a dashboard to rank and display connector trails based on a set of user-provided criteria such as slope and the presence or absence of water features. 

In November of 2018, the USGS demonstrated this capability to the leadership at DOI along with a two-year project proposal.  In December of 2018, NGP received funding from DOI to build an operational National Digital Trails Network capability. 


The proposal consists of three primary goals:  

            1. Create a decision support tool to assist land managers in identifying connections between trails and trail systems.

                a. TRAILS (Trail Routing, Analysis, and Information Linkage System) is a web-based interactive tool for land managers to conduct geospatial analysis for identifying and prioritizing potential trail connections between existing trails and trail networks.  Users will not need special software - just a web browser.  

                b. TRAILS uses existing trails data aggregated by the USGS over the past several years from predominantly authoritative sources. Primary partners include other Federal agencies such as the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, The Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the International Mountain Bicycling Association and some state agencies. 

                c. The cost surface layer, used to help rank candidate trails, incorporates 3DEP, hydrography, and transportation data.  The Protected Areas Dataset of the US (PAD-US) shows Federal and other boundaries for protected lands.   

         2. Create a robust national digital trails database. 

               a. Our strategy is to work in partnership with authoritative data providers to ensure we are acquiring the best available public domain data.   

                b. USGS has aggregated an additional 18,000 miles of trails data since January 2019 and continues to work with existing and new partners to identify and aggregate national trails data. 

        3. Develop a mobile enabled application that will assist trail stewards, land management agencies, and members of the public in the maintenance of trails information.