The OHV community is very familiar with the capabilities of their phone as a navigational tool when they are riding. It is difficult to fathom a ride where you did not use an electronic mapping application on your phone, like On-x or Guya or a geo-referenced PDF. These applications are becoming so common place that most manufacturers are offering these types of resources hard programmed into their new models. Using your phone as an electronic map holder is only scratching the tip of the iceberg on what it is capable of assisting with in your recreational experience.
Many forests and land managers are now becoming able to access more of the capabilities of your phone, in a manner similar to the use of your search history to provide targeted messaging to you about what you are looking for. This technology has been commonly used for marketing in the off-road community for years and is commonly seen when you search for a new bumper for your ride and the next several times you log onto google or facebook, there are ads trying to get you to purchase a particular bumper or talking about a sale on bumpers.
This technology does a lot more in trails than sell bumpers, as your phone captures a TON of data about everything you do. There is no longer a need to work through a third party to download tracks from your ride when you get home as this info can be purchased from a wide range of third parties. This includes the amount of time you are traveling to get to your favorite riding spot, where you pared, how long you stayed, and where you went before and after your ride, did you stay and camp? At the landscape level, this information can help managers understand how many times a parking area is at or beyond capacity or if certain trails rarely are at capacity while other trails are beyond capacity. This is powerful information for the OHV community as it can be used to identify areas where parking lots are needed, understand what happens to public behavior in response to a wildfire or provide information about trail crowding. Managers are now able to access this data and help them in understanding how to allocate resources and this data is cheaper and more available than ever before. This data is FAR higher quality data than ever could be developed with trail counters or people asking questions at trail heads.
I had the opportunity to participate in the development of a planning resource through an effort called NOCO Places 2050 using cell data along the Northern Front Range of Colorado that included dozens of interests and managers in a multi-year effort. These are areas I had ridden for years and thought I knew reasonably well. The cell phone data was eye opening as small riding areas were consistently visited by more than 40% of riders who came from out of state. Many small OHV parking lots saw amazingly high levels of usage. Many riding areas saw two or three times more visitors than adjacent state parks. It is powerful. For those that are interested, here is a link to the dashboard that was created to present this data. Workbook: NoCo 2050 Dashboard (tableau.com)
What does this mean for the OHV community moving forward? First. Don’t be scared of the data, even if it has some serious big brother components of its development. Good data means better decisions. Second you might want to assist managers in obtaining this data. RTP grants and OHV grants can generally cover costs of projects like this. Engage with your club members to understand the locations you want data for, as this can be very helpful in talking with land managers. Even think about getting data for non-motorized areas, so you have something to compare your data too. This resource is coming to your local riding area and the OHV community needs to be using this new resource to our advantage. If we don’t, someone else may and their concerns may not include a good riding area for you or your club.