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Why a Web map is a key resource for creating the world’s longest recreational trail

The Trans Canada Trail Organization and Esri Canada recently collaborated to create a new and improved interactive map using the latest in Web design techniques and ArcGIS technology. Learn about the new Web-based map, why it’s been refreshed and how it’s become an important tool for planning, fundraising and promotional efforts in this interview with Charles-André Roy, Trans Canada Trail’s GIS Manager.

The countdown to complete the Trans Canada Trail—a pan-Canadian effort to link a network of over 24,000 km of recreational trails across the country—by July 1, 2017 is just over a year away.

The Kinsol Trestle (above) on Vancouver Island is part of the Cowichan Valley Trail—one of nearly 500 individual trails that make up the Trans Canada Trail.

The Trail is now 80% complete and to help push efforts as the initiative heads into the homestretch the Trans Canada Trail Organization—a non-profit charity that promotes and helps develop the Trail—has relaunched its interactive map.

Created in collaboration with Esri Canada Technology Lead Matt English using Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS (Developer Edition), the refreshed online map incorporates the principles of responsive design and Web GIS for an improved user experience. I interviewed Charles-André Roy, Trans Canada Trail’s GIS Manager, to learn more about the new interactive map.

AB: Why is an interactive map an important aspect of Trans Canada Trail’s Web site?

CH: It allows us to showcase the Trail by allowing Canadians from coast-to coast-to-coast to access the most up-to-date Trail information and to use this map to plan and share their hikes. Not only has it enhanced access to the most up-to-date information for trail enthusiasts, it has been an extremely effective internal and external tool for planning, fundraising and promoting the Trans Canada Trail since 2011. The interactive map is viewed by more than half of the users visiting our Web site.

AB: What are some of the improvements that have been made to the interactive map that really stand out for you?

CH: The Esri platform has served as the foundation for continued development and enhancements to our interactive map over the years. Esri Canada has adopted such an agile approach to re-developing the interactive map by leveraging the latest Web design techniques and ArcGIS Web app development tools which has helped us improve the Trail user’s experience. Trail enthusiasts can now not only find the Trail closest to them, but find directions to access specific Trail segments, identify parking, access points and rest stops, and explore the Trail with photos. The fact that it provides geolocation and is mobile friendly makes it possible for users to access information, while they’re out on the Trail. Finally, it makes it easier to find places and trails from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

The redesigned TransCanada Trail interactive map features an Explore tab that integrates geo-tagged photos from TransCanada Trail’s Flickr gallery.

AB: How do you feel the visitor experience to the TransCanada Trail map has been improved?

CH: The new interactive map is now mobile friendly. Our former interactive map appeared very small on a mobile screen and almost unusable. Now, the map is much bigger and users can also geolocate themselves in order to find the nearest trail. Also, it’s easier to find many of the tools available on the interactive map. The ArcGIS Web AppBuilder technology offers a well-designed template that makes tools easy to find: they’re all placed in the top bar menu. Overall, the user experience is more user-friendly. For example, simpler user interface, better access to tools and effective organization of tools and information showing as panels instead of pop-ups.

The new interactive map also makes it easier to search places or trails. Now it’s one search box to search everything. This is an improvement over the old application. Getting directions has been enhanced, too. With the new interactive map, users can plan their trip on the Trail with greater ease by answering one of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received over the years: “How do I get to the Trail?” Finally, users can now access more information about trails, such as descriptions, photos, parking and external Web sites.

Trail users can use the interactive map’s navigation tool to get directions to the trail. The graphic above shows driving directions generated by the app to a trail access point in Lindsay.

AB: From a technical standpoint, how has the new technology made it easier to update and share content?

CH: On the data side, we haven’t really changed the data model we used with our former interactive map, including layer map services. However, the new interactive map changes the way that the data is consumed by the map. The interactive map is based on the ArcGIS Web AppBuilder technology, so we’re now using ArcGIS Online to host a Web map used by the interactive map. The ArcGIS Online Web map platform allows us to easily update and customize several components of the map layout, such as managing the list of layers, which is especially interesting since the interactive map will evolve in the future with new information, configuring layer properties (for example, pop-up field attributes and visibility range), and setting the legend. Another advantage using a Web map hosted on ArcGIS Online is the possibility to share that map with any other organization or Esri user using the sharing capability built into ArcGIS Online. It makes it easier to re-use the content of the interactive map in other applications, inside and outside of our organization.

AB: How many total people have visited the interactive map since its launch?

CH: Since we launched the new interactive map in February 2016, it’s registered 14,000 visits. So far in March alone, it’s had 15,000 visits.

Dominic Poulin (left), GIS Specialist at Trans Canada Trail, and Charles-André Roy (right), GIS Manager at Trans Canada Trail.

AB: How has the updated interactive map helped TCT achieve its goals?

CH: It has been an extremely effective internal and external tool for planning, fundraising and promotion of the Trans Canada Trail. For many years, Trans Canada Trail staff and its partner used the map to facilitate trail building: one of the main goals of the organization. The interactive map is consulted every week in order to get the latest up-to-date general information about trail sections. It’s reinforcing our relations with Trail Partners by giving them some tools for their daily business and by showing visually their work to the users.

The interactive map also contributes to build a strong reputation and strengthen the organization by raising the organization profile as a communication and marketing product, and by increasing the visibility and presence of the Trail across the country. Finally, the interactive map helps to generate funding and build public support as a useful tool for trail users that want to see the progression of the Trail across the country and know where sections that still need to be added are located.

The new interactive map is a powerful application that engages, attracts and supports trail users. The interactive map is definitely contributing to promote the knowledge and the pride of the Trail by creating a Trail legacy for future generations. As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, it’s our hope that this national iconic initiative will exemplify Canadian pride and unity, and will be a multi-generational gift, giving Canadians and visitors the opportunity to explore this vast and beautiful country we call home.

AB: Have you had any feedback from trail enthusiasts, trail champions, colleagues?

CH: We’ve had incredibly positive response to the interactive map from Canadians of all ages. In the short term, we’ll be producing a short video tutorial and user-guide to make it easier for users to get the most out of their interactive map visit.