Hiking, Trails, Google, and Some Fun Ideas

Over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Thames Valley Trail Association’s (TVTA) 40th Anniversary, which partnered with the Hike Ontario Annual Summit. Besides being an informative and inspiring event, it took place in the beautiful and newly-renovated Watershed Conservation Centre with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA). Some of the pictures that I took can be viewed on the Grand Valley Trails Association’s (GVTA) Facebook page.

For anyone who has been out hiking, you know what a transformative and uplifting experience it can be to put one foot after the other along a defined path. Even better, the trails can sometimes be paved with enjoyable conversations with friends, the anticipation of sitting down to a well-earned meal after the trek, or simply, the silence and beauty of nature. Encountering unexpected vistas and building a stronger pair of legs are two other exciting perks associated with hiking.

Will and I out on the sunny trails. © Maria Legault 2012.
Will and I out on the sunny trails.© Maria Legault 2012.

I have always been an avid (but mostly solitary) hiker. However, my exposure to these hiking groups makes me think about ways that hiking could be a more collaborative, youth-focused endeavour. I’m also thinking how the trails which pepper our private landscapes throughout Ontario could become valued tourism and community assets. From my conversations with those in the GVTA, TVTA, and Hike Ontario, I know that they have considered websites, social media, and phone-based applications to market their trails and increase their public visibility as an organization.

The positive energy at the event this past weekend got me thinking about involving Twitter in a hike or trail maintenance event (focusing mostly on pictures and making real-time postings about the activity). I also reflected on undertaking an End-to-End hike (in which you start at the trail head and don’t stop walking until you reach it’s furthest terminus) while posting pictures of the hike on the organization’s social media channels. One other big idea which popped into my head was to hike all the trails in Ontario and map them out using  Google Street View.

In early April 2013, Google Maps and Parks Canada partnered together to bring “Canada’s most beloved national parks and historic sites” to the online world “in hopes that allowing people to hike the woods on their computer screens will encourage them to do it in real life” (Weber, April 17th, 2013). Essentially, “Google staff plan to drive the roads, hike the paths and peer into the rooms of 120 national parks and historic sites by the end of 2014 using backpack-mounted cameras being used this year for the first time in Canada” (Weber, April 17th, 2013). A similar idea was used in Central Park in the U.S., where a Google Street View trike put this location on the virtual map for all to see (Pesce, August 5th, 2012).

The “Google Trekker”, as it is known, weighs about 40 pounds and uses very sophisticated technology to create “a smooth, continuous eye-level view of the trail” it is used on (Henn, October 24th, 2012). So I got to thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if we had a Google View of the trails all across Ontario, especially those which are managed by organizations like the TVTA and GVTA? Any “tourism board, non-profit, university, [or] research organization” can apply to borrow the Google Trekker and map out hard to reach places (see details on the Trekker Loan Program here). I, for one, would love to see such an initiative happen and would also love to be the one out there hiking with this pack on.

Unfortunately, the trails managed by Hike Ontario-affiliated groups are largely based on private land. A significant stumbling block with such a program would be getting permission from private landowners to film while hiking on their property (and while potentially passing by other hikers!). Understandably, privacy has long been an issue with the Google Street View.

Regardless of this significant barrier, I am still aflutter with thoughts over how such a project might work. Having a Google Street View of Ontario’s trails could increase their public visibility, community value, and contributions to tourism revenues. It would also dovetail nicely with the current governmental focus on funding trail-related initiatives (Trans Canada Trail, 2013).

Any input or further ideas about this project are very welcome!! Please feel free to email me at legault.maria [at] gmail.com or comment here.

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