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Florida turns to Web for state trails plan data update

The challenge: to update the state's trail corridor plan to enable agencies, trail groups, and the public to provide input into Florida's future trails and greenways system.

By Jim Wood
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways & Trails

"In less than twelve months, the trail opportunity corridor data for the entire state was updated."

In the Spring of 2003, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways & Trails (OGT) faced a significant challenge. The office needed to update a statewide set of trails data with input from non-profit organizations, user groups, and agencies across the entire state. OGT also wanted to complete the work in less than a year, ensuring that sufficient opportunities were provided for public input.

Faced with that challenge, OGT turned to its long-time partner, the University of Florida GeoPlan Center (UF). It quickly became clear that the Web would be the solution. An online system was developed that provided not only the ability to quickly update data with input from individuals and organizations throughout Florida, but that same system now provides the ability for anyone to interactively view the updated data online.

The Data

The Trail Network data being updated was originally developed as a companion to Florida's statewide greenways and trails plan in 1998. Given the rapid growth in local and regional planning of greenways and trails since that time, OGT felt it was important to update the data so it would reflect the tremendous progress being made throughout Florida in greenways and trails visioning.

The Trail Network data not only represents the statewide vision for a connected system of trails, it also determines eligibility for funding to purchase land under Florida's greenways and trails acquisition program. A trail corridor can only be eligible to compete for the state's acquisition dollars if it is part of the Trail Network Opportunity Corridors. For the online system, the focus was on multi-use and paddling trail corridors. The hiking opportunity map for the state adopted the planning corridor for the congressionally designated Florida National Scenic Trail.

Phase I: Trail Planning Organizations

The online system that was developed by UF to conduct the data update allowed trail planners, trail user groups, and others involved with visioning to submit updates from their desktop computers. Trails organizations and agencies were provided password access during the first phase of the update. Representatives from these entities could visit the website and zoom in from a statewide map of Florida to the local area of interest. They could then submit specific additions or "draw" trail corridors on their computer screen, using aerial photos or other data layers as their guide.

In addition to submitting geographic information, representatives also filled out a form with specific information such as the organization they represent, whether the corridor is part of a specific local plan, and other information about the corridor itself. Because the additional information was provided through an online form, all information submitted was consistent.

Phase II: Public Comment Period

After comments were received from trail agencies and organizations, a draft update was prepared based upon those comments for review by the Florida Greenways and Trails Council (FGTC).

Once reviewed and approved by the FGTC to move forward, the draft update was made available to the public via the online system. During that time, virtually anyone could submit comments regarding the draft update. Three public workshops were also held throughout the state to provide an opportunity for citizens to discuss questions or comments face to face with OGT.

Phase III: Prioritization of All Segments

After public comment, the final opportunity corridors were submitted to the FGTC for review. Once approved, all of the trail corridor segments were prioritized through a process that included both subjective input as well as quantitative criteria. Each segment received a ranking of high, medium, or low. This ranking serves as one of the factors to be considered when projects are being evaluated for acquisition. The rankings were reviewed and approved by the FGTC in May of 2004, officially completing the update of the data.

Summary

In less than twelve months, the trail opportunity corridor data for the entire state was updated. Receiving comments through the online system significantly reduced the cost and time of the tremendous number of meetings that would have otherwise been needed, not to mention the many hours that would have been required to compile information from marked-up paper maps. Another significant benefit during the process was that changes submitted online were viewable almost immediately by others submitting comments. This helped to avoid duplication of comments. For further information about Florida's trails data update and to view the results of the work, visit http://ogt.geoplan.ufl.edu.

Jim Wood is an American Trails Board member. As Assistant Director of the Office of Greenways & Trails he oversees Planning, Public Outreach, Designation, and Land Acquisition programs and staff.

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