Spending time outdoors in greenspaces and on walking trails is good for physical and mental health, and during the COVID-19 pandemic many parks and trails filled to capacity. A new resource called the Connecticut Trail Finder will help new and existing users find the road less traveled and explore the more than 2,000 miles of trails in the state.
Connecticut Trail Finder, accessible online at https://cttrailfinder.com, will launch on Saturday, June 5 to the public as a new, free, interactive website where trail users can find information, maps, and eventually, nearby businesses, on publicly and privately managed trails, with plans to add more trails on a weekly basis.
“Our goal is for the Connecticut Trail Finder to be the go-to resource for residents and tourists, to discover new trails in their backyard and across the state,” says Kimberly Bradley, the Program Coordinator for the Connecticut Trail Finder and the Connecticut Trail Census with UConn Extension. “Each trail posting on the website is vetted by the trail managers, stewards, and park managers who have on-the-ground knowledge of the trail system.”
Trail users can feel confident in the descriptions on the site about the type and difficulty of each trail, what types of activities are allowed, and the accuracy of parking and hours compared to crowd-sourced websites. The project is funded by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Recreational Trails Fund, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and administered by UConn Extension.
The site also has a number of features to help users find the right trail. “We’ve included popular searches,” Bradley says. “We’ve grouped pet-friendly trails, waterfalls, bike paths, waterfront, swimming or fishing opportunities, summits, trail running, and family-friendly trails to save visitors time. Resources, tips and tricks, including how to find the right trail, are all available on the website.”
Recreational activities included in Connecticut Trail Finder are hiking, walking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, paddling, ATV riding, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. Each of these user groups can search for trails that support these activities.
“To find trails, users start by browsing the map or filtering by length, difficulty, distance or popular search categories. From there, each trail posting has quick facts, photos, detailed descriptions, links, alerts and trail manager contact information. Detailed trail maps show the trails, parking, points of interest as well as accessible trails. Parking information and directions are also available within the site,” says Emily Wilson, a geospatial educator with UConn Extension who is part of the Connecticut Trail Finder team, supporting website design and data collection.
Trail users can create a free account on the website to track trails they want to visit or have visited, upload photos, and leave comments about trails. The team at UConn Extension is actively working with trail managers to add more trails every week and expand other features.
Part of the project, led by Wilson and the UConn Center for Land-use Education and Research (CLEAR) team, is to develop a statewide GIS layer of trails. Having trails in a single location will benefit the trail community as well as local and state government, planners, conservation organizations, and more.
“The next phase of the project is connecting interested local businesses with trail users looking for places to eat, stay, or fix their bicycles,” says Laura Brown, a Community and Economic Development Extension educator at UConn and team leader for the trails projects. “Plans are underway for an events section in the future that will connect outdoor enthusiasts with recreational opportunities.”
The Connecticut Trail Finder project began in 2020, and is based on the Maine Trail Finder and VT/NH Trail Finder websites. Partners on the project include UConn Extension; the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection; the Connecticut Department of Transportation; Connecticut Forest and Park Association; Capitol Region Council of Governments, the National Park Service; Active People, Healthy Nation Connecticut; the Connecticut Trail Census; FHI Studio; and the Connecticut Outdoor Recreation Alliance.
Connecticut Trail Finder also incorporates videos created by UConn Extension’s People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability (PATHS) team, also available at https://cttrails.uconn.edu/, to help new trail users with the information they need before setting out, packing lists, a how-to on reading trail blazes, and trail etiquette. CDC recommendations on safe trail use during the pandemic are included on the websites as well.