Coming soon to your mobile phone: Regional District of Nanaimo trail maps

Many of the region’s trails are not part of the RDN system and are unmarked but well-used

The Regional District of Nanaimo is stepping up efforts to map park and wilderness space through GPS (global positioning system).

“In my area (Area H), and Area B, we’ve got a wealth of trails that are maintained by volunteers, that are on Crown land, that are not Regional District of Nanaimo trails, but they’re used a tremendous amount,” said RDN chair Bill Veenhof.

“It has been a windmill that I’ve tilted at, trying to get trails in my area mapped and marked,” he said, excited to introduce a new initiative at the RDN board’s May 14 meeting.

He said he has worked on the idea with well meaning volunteers for years, but they just didn’t have the focus and resources.

Pam Newton, with the RDN’s geographic information system (GIS) staff, said they have already been collecting a lot of the information for their own internal use.

They log the exact location of everything from major sewer lines to garbage cans, she explained, and they already have a lot of information on parks and trails. The next step is adapting the information into more user-friendly formats and making it available to the public.

She said the GPS unit they use logs data to an accuracy of 10 cm to two metres, depending on conditions like tree cover, but even at the bottom end they are far more accurate than other current information available.

“Having the areas mapped will help us when it comes to search and rescue operations,” Veenhof said. “Both in my area and Area B last year we had tragic events where mapping would have helped,” he said, referencing the disappearance of a senior with dementia in Bowser.

“Its potentially a tourism draw and it is also a way locals can celebrate the area in which they live,” he added, talking about a demonstration trip with staff to some trails as one of the best days he’d had.

The new web-based GPS maps will be available in live, downloadable and printed formats. The live versions, which will require your phone’s location services and data to be on, will be able to pinpoint your location within feet and allow you to follow a dot along a trail map on your phone.

Newton gave the example of trails around the Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery, showing the extensive detail they have, with many items and specific routes available to click on for more detail. Users will also have the ability to search the maps.

There was also discussion about exact formats and phone apps that will be available, with some details still to be finalized.

They are using the data to produce much more detailed maps which, aside from the live apps, will also be available in PDF format and in paper copies at the RDN office.

The RDN board voted to reallocate some GIS staff resources to the collection and publishing of the data. For now there are traditional maps and trail information available at www.rdn.bc.ca.

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