OpenTrails Season Begins

2014 Code for America Fellow (and once and future Portland resident) Lyzi Diamond hikes with the Code for Portland Brigade.

On June 1st, in over one hundred different cities across the United States, hackers and designers stood side by side with policy makers and advocates, showing off apps and projects they worked together to hatch over the last 24 hours. In Portland, OR, civic hackers showed off two apps made possible by a new open data specification, OpenTrails.

This was the third annual National Day of Civic Hacking. Sponsored by some of the biggest names in government and tech, NDoCH is bit like Earth Day for IT—a weekend where people focus on exploring new ideas for how technology can improve our society.

In Portland, the weekend-long hack-a-thon focused on what helps technology “scale”: consistent ways of keeping or publishing data. Portland is the birthplace of perhaps the most important open data specification—GTFS. GTFS revolutionized public transit, and has improved the lives of untold millions of riders who no longer wait with uncertainty about when the next bus will arrive.

Bibiana McHugh, who pioneered GFTS in her role at Portland’s Tri-Met agency, was on hand at Code for Portland’s NDoCH event. So were representatives from Metro, the regional government, and The Intertwine Alliance, the region’s coalition of public land agencies and advocates. Together, the hackers on hand worked to build on top of a new open data specification that aims to make getting outdoors as easy as getting the next bus: the Open Trail System Specification, or OpenTrails.

OpenTrails is one of a handful of emerging open data specifications being developed by governments and advocates with the help of Code for America. June 1st marked the closing of a Request for Comment period advised by the the National Recreation and Parks Association, ESRI, AllTrails, Strava, the Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Protected Areas Database. With a version 1.0 in place, OpenTrails makes it easier to quickly build and iterate on applications for visitors to our nation’s expansive trail networks, and the stewards that care for them.

Code for Portland member and engineer Marc Charbonneau built an native iOS map application that helps citizens with varying needs and abilities (think wheelchair access) find the trails that are right for them. The app could be repurposed for any region that published OpenTrails-compliant data.

Tech start-up founders Jereme Monteau and Ryan Branciforte of tech startup Trailhead Labs led another OpenTrails project, helping park agencies actually collect and improve their data. In Portland, Metro is about to embark on an effort to document all of the region’s trailheads—a powerful dataset that allows app developers to include directions and routing in their apps. TrailEditor allows visitors to simply take a photo of a trailhead, and e-mail it to the agency. The app deciphers the location of the photo, and creates OpenTrails data for the agencies to download.

The next weekend, on National Trails Day no less, a dozen people turned out on yet another Saturday morning, this time to go hiking in Portland’s beautiful Forest Park. The group tested the apps in the real world. They documented trailheads, producing OpenTrails data that can serve as the seed for a full data set of trailheads in greater Portland, creating the information needed to show any citizen to just how easy it is to get outdoors and on the trails.

CIvic hacker Dale Hollocher tests the app he helped to buid, TrailEditor, out in the field.

Civic hacker Dale Hollocher tests the app he helped to build, TrailEditor, out in the field.

The next step for OpenTrails is further adoption by trail stewards across the country. The specification originated in Northeast Ohio, with a coalition of trail stewards crossing the Cuyahoga Valley. Now, with support from companies like outdoor tech startup Trailhead Labs and GIS-leader ESRI, Code for America will be promoting adoption among regions everywhere. We are developing tools to support cities and park agencies, and the ecosystem of apps and services is growing. If you’d like to get trail data open and on the web, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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