Oakville: Great Nature Trails Deserve a Great Website

I spent most of last summer exploring Oakville’s beautiful trail system and trying to learn more using the Oakville.ca website. Although the framework of the site is very nice, it lacks content.

Photo of trail marker for Munn's Creek Trail East, in Oakville Here are a few ideas I’ve had for improving the Parks & Rec section and increasing the amount of information about how to use the beautiful trails that wind all across Oakville.

1) Better, focused trail maps online – Currently the only clues as to where various trails are located are found on either the big, confusing interactive DMTI Spatial town map, or the one-page printed cycle/walk map. The interactive map is not helpful if you are on the road, trying to locate a trail head using your eyeballs or on your phone. There’s no “get directions” function, and the navigational menus are not responsive, so they won’t scale to the size of your mobile device. You need pages focused on just one trail, with a zoomed-in map to show you what you are looking for simply and quickly. Ideally, each major trail should have its own page on the town website, with a simplified static map. Trails should be clearly marked in a solid colour, with all entry/exit points highlighted, and distances measured. A consistent panel of information on each page should show: length of trail, number of trail heads, major features (forest, creek, pond), elevation (flat, hilly), lighting (open sky, full tree canopy, streetlights), and road surface (paved, gravel). A wiki could be good for this.

2) Include visuals – To help people find the ins and outs of the trail system and entice them to explore further, photos and video would be very helpful. Particularly useful would be photos of trail heads that show useful landmarks (eg. the section of Morrison Creek South that exits near the Rabba on Trafalgar is very hard to find and not marked from the road). Some pics of the interior of the trail in various seasons would also be nice, to show people what a treat lies in store if they put on their running shoes or cycling helmet. In an ideal world, a quick video tour of the selected trail could also be available for viewing – nothing more than 2 mins, just enough to give a taste of the terrain.

3) Help in choosing a path – Maybe today I want a walk in the woods. About 5km. Near my house. How do I know where to start? The Town must have collected information about the trail system in a database in order to plot maps online. Leverage that data to create a “Choose Your Route” selector, where citizens can input their postal code or current intersection (in case they’re just visiting) and find a list of their closest trails. They should also be able to refine their search results, narrowing choices down by length of the trail in kilometers, terrain (woods, ravine, creekside, pond view) and accessibility (stairs, steep gravel egress, etc). If you don’t have the resources to build a nice interface for this route selector at the Town, you can just release the raw data on the town site as a spreadsheet or other helpful dataset format, and consider asking Sheridan’s computer programming department for help – they could make it a student project or competition.

4) Let the public contribute – Don’t have photos or videos of the Town trails? Don’t want to hire a Town photographer or videographer to make them? No problem. You don’t need to. Consider the resources already at your disposal. First, there are the people who have adopted sections of trail. Send emails to them asking for any media they’d be willing to contribute for their section of trail. Give them a list of preferred shots, like photos of each of the trail heads, and a few interior shots of trail highlights (woods, ponds, parks, etc). Next, open an Oakville.ca Flickr (or Google+, or Pinterest) group account and let citizens add photos to Trail albums. Again, consider getting Sheridan College students involved, or make a contest – like a trail treasure hunt, and reward the family or school that adds the most or best photos to the set.

Most of the improvements I’ve suggested could be easily implemented on the ‘Trails’ page of your site, which at the very least should have links to larger trails organizations like the Ontario Trails Council. Those are my ideas – I hope the Town of Oakville reads them and takes them seriously! I’ll be emailing them to Mayor Burton, and my local ward Town & Regional councillors.

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