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This new tool offers hikers a way to report maintenance needs on B.C. trails

The Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia launched the online BC Trail Tracker last month—now, its founders are looking for the public's help.
hiking trail in southwest BC
The Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia recently launched the BC Trail Tracker tool, which aims to provide the public with information on the status of hiking trails throughout the province.

Have you ever stumbled across a trail washout or fallen tree during a hike, but weren't sure who to call to fix it?

So has Jay MacArthur. 

"I've been hiking for 50 years," he said, "and I've just noticed how badly our trails have fared, especially over the last 10 years. [Hiking has] just gotten so much more popular and the government just doesn't have any funding to do anything."

Enough of those experiences eventually prompted MacArthur, chair of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia (FMCBC) trails committee, to come up with an idea for a centralized tracking tool that would allow hikers to submit trail-condition reports and provide the public with status updates about hiking trails throughout the province. In addition to determining what trail maintenance is required, MacArthur's dream tool would also serve as an inventory of B.C.'s trails and who is responsible for taking care of them.

That thought turned into a reality when the organization's BC Trail Tacker officially went live late last month.

"We were working on it for the last six months fairly seriously," said MacArthur. "I had this idea like, 10 years ago and the technology wasn't quite there, but I've retired and I had some spare time."

Here's how it works: hikers fire up the website and search the inventory for the trail they're tackling or backcountry campsite they're visiting— if it doesn't pop up, users can add that trail to the database themselves along with a description of the hike. Once a location has been entered, users can search for it and share intel about everything from road and trail conditions to incidents like vehicle break-ins at trailhead parking lots

"There's a place you could put the GPS location and you can attach a photograph, so it's pretty simple," said MacArthur. 

The tracker will also provide links to GPS mapping systems like AllTrailsGaiaGPS and TrailForks. If there's an issue reported that needs fixing, a volunteer dedicated to that specific trail or region—or "trail champion," as MacArthur has dubbed them—will head out to carry out that maintenance whenever they're available.

Building that roster of volunteers is the piece of the puzzle that FMCBC officials are currently focused on. 

Regional volunteer teams would be tasked with collecting trail-condition reports and providing information on who is managing and maintaining trails. Those teams would coordinate what work needs to be completed in each region of the province, as well as help train trail champions to get that work done.

"Ideally we'd have one trail champion for each trail—and I'd imagine there's thousands of trails in the province, there's hundreds even in just the Sea to Sky area—and then regional coordinators, too," said MacArthur.

The collaborative tool is a good fit for the FMCBC, which itself serves as an umbrella organization for most hiking, climbing and mountaineering clubs across the province.

"Our members built most of the hiking trails 50 or more years ago—or, you know, converted them from game trails, First Nations trails and things like that ... we know the trails best, is what I like to say," explained MacArthur. "We've had real issues with BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails over the last few years not maintaining the trails at all."

He continued, "we've got about 10 of our 50 clubs that do quite a bit of trail work, but the clubs themselves can only do so much. So we're really trying to get the public more involved in this initiative, and if the public can identify problems on the trails, then we can document them and take them to big government to try and get funding to fix problems, because a lot of times the problems are much more difficult than just a volunteer can deal with."

Visit the BC Trail Tracker website to sign up to volunteer, or to pop your favourite hiking trail into the database.