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The Universal Trail Assessment Process: A Survey of State Trail Administrators

State Trail Administrators throughout the United States were surveyed on their understanding of the Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) program and to solicit their input on the value and future potential of the program in their states (April 15, 2005).

By Michael J. Passo

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF SURVEY RESULTS

The survey successfully contacted 47 State Trails Coordinators in 45 different states in December 2004. Overall reaction to the surveys was positive. There were several significant or notable results worth mentioning (a full statistical analysis can be found in Appendix B):
  • 28% of respondents have been through UTAP training.
  • 17% have not heard of UTAP until now.
  • 70% understand UTAP well enough after phone contact to discuss it with coworkers or superiors.
  • 98% feel that UTAP would benefit their state.
  • 49% are interested in becoming a UTAP Trainer

The highest ranked obstacles to getting UTAP training include . . .

  • Limited funding for course tuition (67%)
  • Limited travel budget (67%)
  • Trainings not offered in their area (61%)
The highest ranked obstacles to implementing UTAP include . . .
  • Personnel required to complete UTAP assessments (72%)
  • Your staff's available time (72%)
  • Time required to complete UTAP assessments (70%)

Respondent Suggestions for improvement

"Need more staff to coordinate projects. Maybe (FHWA) could recommend staffing level for each state." (17 responses)

"Develop informational resources that will help us to promote the UTAP program to our superiors and agencies that we work with. Develop demand." (17 responses)

"Subsidize and offer trainings to people that need it, besides State Trail Administrators." (13 responses)

American Trails' Course of Action

#1: Marketing of UTAP

#2: Restructure the UTAP Course Offerings

#3: Work with FHWA to allow scholarships for key people other than State Trail Administrators

#4: Encourage Federal Level Adoption of UTAP

THE SURVEY

The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) has come into its own as a land management tool rather than simply an accessibility tool. In this expanded role, the UTAP program provides the country with a consistent way of looking at trails. UTAP gives land managers a common language by which they can communicate with the public and each other. It also reinforces the tenants of good trail design and provides a vehicle by which trail managers can assess the effectiveness of that design on the users of the trail.

American Trails, in coordination with the Federal Highways Administration Recreation Trails Program (RTP) has interviewed State Trail Administrators across the country to determine the depth and breadth of understanding of the UTAP program, and to solicit their ideas on how UTAP can be a more effective and useful tool. This report outlines the goals of the project, the results of those interviews, and a course of action that American Trails intends to undertake based upon the suggestions for improvement received.

Goals of Project:

To develop a telephone survey tool for State Trail Administrators, in coordination with American Trails, Federal Highway Administration, and Beneficial Designs, Inc., to gather the following information regarding implementing the Universal Trail Assessment Process. The phone survey should answer, at a minimum, the following questions:

  1. Are they familiar with UTAP? If not, introduce them to the process.
  2. Do they think the program would benefit their State?
  3. What are the obstacles keeping them from getting training?
  4. What are the obstacles keeping them from implementing the program?
  5. Would they be willing to host a training?
  6. Would they attend a regional training?
  7. Remind them of the FHWA scholarships.

In Phase I, set appointments and conduct individual telephone surveys with 20 State Trail Administrators.

  1. Encourage previous UTAP trainees to take refresher courses planned for 2005.
  2. Encourage more UTAP Coordinators to go through training to become Master Trainers.
  3. Record responses, prepare a written report on findings, and submit to the American Trails office by April 15.

Steps Towards the Goal:

With the assistance of representatives of American Trails, Beneficial Designs, and the Federal Highways Administration, Mike Passo developed a survey instrument for implementing the UTAP surveys. (Please see Appendix A)

Mike has conducted individual phone surveys with 47 State Trail Administrators or their appropriate surrogates, in 45 separate states. Each survey required approximately one half hour to complete, and were, for the most part, enthusiastically received by the State Trail Administrators.

A large portion of the time spent on each survey was used to establish a baseline understanding of the current UTAP program for each of the respondents. Each respondent was reminded of the funding available to take UTAP training, and has also been encouraged to consider becoming a UTAP trainer.

SURVEY RESULTS

Below are the findings relating to each of the specific questions outlined in the goals of the program (see Appendix B for a full statistical analysis of the survey results):

1. Are they familiar with UTAP? If not, introduce them to the process.

Results: 83% of respondents had heard of UTAP. However, much fewer of the respondents felt that they really knew what UTAP was. The surveys do not address this specifically, but I would estimate that only 40% of respondents were versed in UTAP well enough to correctly articulate the goals of the program. All of respondents were told about the current status and goals of UTAP.

2. Do they think the program would benefit their State?

Results: 98% of respondents believed that UTAP would benefit their state. Many qualified their statement by saying that it would be beneficial only if they had the resources available to implement the program, which many feel they do not.

3. What are the obstacles keeping them from getting training?

Results: Top 3 responses

  • Limited funding for course tuition (67% ranked 4+ on a 1 to 5 scale)
  • Limited travel budget (67% ranked 4+ on a 1 to 5 scale)
  • Trainings not offered in their area (61% ranked 4+ on a 1 to 5 scale)

4. What are the obstacles keeping them from implementing the program?

Results: Top 3 responses

  • Personnel required to complete UTAP assessments (72% ranked 4+ on a 1 to 5 scale)
  • Your staff's available time (72% ranked 4+ on a 1 to 5 scale)
  • Time required to complete UTAP assessments (70% ranked 4+ on a 1 to 5 scale)

5. Would they attend a regional training?

Results: 83% of respondents would be willing to attend a UTAP training if they haven't already been trained. Many expressed the opinion that they were not able to make that decision, and would need an extensive information resource in order to sell their supervisors on the value of attending a training.

6. Would they be willing to host a training?

Results: 53% of respondents would be willing to host a UTAP training. Again, with the caveat that they were not able to make that decision, and would need an extensive information and cost/benefit resource in order to sell their supervisors on the value of hosting a training.

7. Remind them of the FHWA scholarships.

Results: All respondents were reminded of scholarships available through FHWA. Many (at least 13 noted in surveys) expressed interest in transferring their scholarship to other agency personnel, or non-profit or volunteer agency staff.

Overall, respondents were extremely supportive of the UTAP program, but a little unsure about how to implement UTAP given all of their other duties, and the funding problems they currently face. They also, on the whole, struggle with how to convince their superiors that the cost vs. benefit of the training is worthwhile.

Suggestions for Improvement of UTAP:

Based on the responses to an open ended question posed at the end of each interview, "In an ideal world, what do you need?", I have compiled a list of respondent suggestions for improving the usefulness of the UTAP program. Each statement is followed by the number of times a similar statement was suggested throughout the surveys, and they are listed in order of frequency.

"Need more staff to coordinate projects. Maybe (FHWA) could recommend staffing level for each state." (17)

Discussion: Overwhelmingly, the state representatives are saying that they do not have the people necessary to implement UTAP assessments on the ground. Because of this, several representatives have asked whether the Federal Highways tuition funding could be used to get a volunteer group or non-profit agency trained in UTAP, rather than a state trail coordinator who is just to busy with other priorities. Whenever this subject came forward, I also talked to them about the High Efficiency Trail Assessment Process (HETAP) project and how that might address some of their concerns.

"Develop informational resources that will help us to promote the UTAP program to our superiors and agencies that we work with. Develop demand." (17)

Examples of suggested forms of marketing:

  • Brochures
  • Mini-training sessions at state trails conferences ("UTAP Light" or outreach workshops)
  • Success stories outlining cost benefit analysis and who is using UTAP effectively
  • Promotional information to be included in RTP grant info packets
  • Press Releases

Discussion: 83% of the respondents claim to have a working knowledge of what UTAP is. They have heard the name in State Trail Administrator meetings or other national meetings, however, they expressed little understanding of what the programs benefits truly are, and were often very interested in learning more. A further discussion about UTAP would generally follow these responses, as well as direction to the American Trails NTTP website and to the Beneficial Designs website. Many of these respondents indicated that they would like to see an information packet or update on a regular basis, which they could show to superiors and coworkers.

"Subsidize and offer trainings to people that need it, besides State Trail Administrators." (13)

Examples of suggested people who should receive training:

  • Park directors and managers
  • Maintenance crews
  • Non-profit or volunteer groups

Discussion: State respondents stated that they do not have the people necessary to implement UTAP assessments on the ground. Because of this, several representatives have asked whether the Federal Highways tuition funding could be used to get a volunteer group or non-profit agency trained in UTAP, rather than a state trail coordinator who is just to busy with other priorities.

"Need the funds to send people to training." (7)

Discussion: Many of the respondents that suggested that there is a need for more funding to send people to training were unaware of the currently available funding through FHWA. Upon making them aware of the current scholarships, many continued to say that travel costs (rather than course tuition) were the most difficult expenses to find funding for. Having trainings within their own states, and making them available to people other than State Trail Administrators were the most commonly suggested remedies from the respondents.

"Develop a prioritized or incremental approach to gathering UTAP. What is most important info to gather first? How do we get the most benefit from limited resources?" (6)

Discussion: A significant number of respondents have also stated that they would like to see a more prioritized approach to the UTAP program. As part of the training, they would like to know which part takes highest priority to do first within the process, in case they are forced to cut back on the time available or staff available. In other words, is it more important to get grade information vs. obstacle information, and which should be done first in order to get the most benefit from limited staff availability?

"Have a 'UTAP Light' that will give you 90% of important information and cut out the time-consuming, over the top information." (4)

Discussion: Many respondents have compared UTAP trainings to the IMBA trainings, suggesting that UTAP should be more like the IMBA trainings. They point out that IMBA trainings are common, nation-wide, short, very useful to their maintenance crews, and (probably above all) free.

"Trailware needs to be compatible with ARC GIS." (4)

Discussion: 65% of respondents identified the time required to enter data into Trailware as a major obstacle to implementing UTAP. Also, 22% of respondents stated that they felt Trailware software is difficult to get and to use. Of these respondents, many had the impression that Trailware is a stand alone program, and that it is difficult or impossible to share data with existing GIS software programs. To these folks, this was a major obstacle to allowing implementation of UTAP.

"Hold a training in each state." (4)

Discussion: Travel restrictions are commonplace. It varies year-to-year, but 49% of the respondents have significant restrictions on out-of-state travel. This is a great obstacle to getting their people trained in UTAP.

"Great training, but can't afford to implement, so it's useless at this point." (3)

Discussion: This comment gets back to the lack of staff and funds available to the State Trails Administrators. Please see discussions in items #1 and #4 above.

"Need to have UTAP identified as a priority." (3)

Discussion: Respondents have stated that they love the idea of gathering detailed information on their trails and disseminating that information to the public. However, before they can even consider that, they have more pressing priorities in just getting the basic facilities accessible, or determining what trails even exist on their land. Essentially, they are saying that there is a whole support structure that needs to be in place (and often isn't), before they can make it a priority to put the "icing on the cake" of making all of UTAP's great information available to the trail user.

ADDITIONAL RESPONSES

"Award extra points for all RTP applications that have UTAP assessments." (2)

"Need a hotline for trail technical assistance with regard to accessibility." (2)

"Really appreciate all the assistance from Christopher and his program. Couldn't do anything without it." (1)

"Love the HETAP idea. This could make the whole UTAP possible." (1)

"Need more encouragement from Federal Highways to promote trainings to supervisors of agencies that administer RTP program." (1)

"Encourage NPS and USFS to implement UTAP first." (1)

"This is the future, this is what we need to be doing. This is for us down the road." (1)

AMERICAN TRAILS' COURSE OF ACTION

#1: Marketing of UTAP

UTAP is in need of an effective marketing campaign that can arm the UTAP supporters (and most everyone surveyed would likely be a UTAP supporter) with the tools they need to suggest implementing UTAP in their state. Based on these observations, I would propose that American Trails implement the following action steps:

  • In conjunction with Beneficial Designs, develop a media packet/portfolio that can be sent with news releases, as well as a resource for people requesting to promote UTAP within their state.
  • FHWA should encourage UTAP as a Recreation Trails Program grant prerequisite or a way for applicants to earn extra points in the granting process.

#2. Restructure the UTAP Course Offerings

It is also a reality that the State Trail Administrators may in most cases not be the people that need to be trained fully in UTAP. They definitely should know a lot about it (which could be accomplished by single day or half-day workshops), but they will never lead a crew in conducting assessments, and probably don't have time to be conducting UTAP trainings. Based on these observations, I would propose that American Trails implement the following action steps:

  • Work with Beneficial Designs to update and develop a half-day or full day UTAP introduction.

  • Incorporate a half-day workshop into the Annual State Trails Administrators Meeting.

  • Plan a single or half-day UTAP workshop at all of the State Trails Conferences and meetings.

  • Work with Beneficial Designs to explore the possibility of implementing an incremental approach to agency implementation of UTAP.

  • Seek corporate sponsorship for traveling UTAP trainers and assessment crews. Partner with a large scale, national non-profit (i.e. PVA, Americorps) to get funding, train traveling crews, train parks personnel for half day and then spend several days doing prioritized assessments in state, and move on. (Like IMBA crews, only doing on-the-ground assessment as well.)

#3: Work with FHWA to allow scholarships for key people other than State Trail Administrators

As discussed in #2 above, there is a lot of interest in allowing the people in each state that need UTAP training to get it. Often, the agency representatives that most need UTAP training are not the State Trails Administrators. There were many respondents interested in promoting UTAP training for state park managers, maintenance crews, non-profit agencies, and volunteer groups. Based on these observations, I would propose that American Trails implement the following action steps:

  • Allow FHWA scholarship to fund UTAP trainings for people other than the State Trail Administrator, perhaps under the stipulation that they be specifically recommended by the State Trail Administrator.
  • Let states know that they can use educational funds to put on UTAP trainings with local agencies, non-profits and volunteer groups.

#4: Encourage Federal Level Adoption of UTAP

Many state programs would be willing to implement UTAP if it could be proven effective and beneficial to managing agencies and the public. Having the Federal Land Management Agencies take the lead on UTAP would give each state a tangible program that they can point to as a success story. It would be very effective for a State Trail Administrator to be able to say, "Everyone else is doing it, why aren't we?"

Action Steps:

  • Create and get signatures on an MOU outlining a UTAP implementation plan within the Federal Land Management Agencies.
  • Encourage the development and use of HETAP by USFS and NPS agencies.

This survey was commissioned by American Trails in cooperation with the Federal Highways Administration Recreation Trails Program and Beneficial Designs, Inc.

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