What do bike riders do when the rest of the outdoor world goes skiing? They get to work on their maps.
And the fat-tire crowd will need all their Christmas lights to illuminate the new bicycle routes popping up on national maps this winter. The U.S. Geological Survey has started including mountain bike trails with its digital dataset of state topographic maps. Just in time for spring break, Arizona’s new maps should have miles of slickrock riding on the chart.
As bad luck would have it, Montana’s latest USGS map rolled out of the computer barely a month before the agency announced its bike trail initiative. Agency spokesman Mark Newell said the next series of 2,923 Montana quadrangle maps would be updated in about three years. New state maps are released every few months in a rotating cycle.
The first maps to get the bike information include Arizona in January, followed by Nebraska, Missouri, Nevada, California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Vermont, Wyoming, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Florida and part of Alaska in 2015.
But bicycling enthusiasts have stepped into the gap with their own mapping and route-recording efforts. International Mountain Biking Association members have been contributing most of the trail information to USGS, and they have already compiled many of Montana’s most popular destinations in their crowdsourced database.
“This is a significant step for USGS,” said Brian Fox of the USGS' National Geospatial Technical Operations Center. “National datasets of trails do not yet exist, and in many areas even local datasets do not exist. Finding, verifying and consolidating data is expensive. Partnering with non-government organizations that collect trails data through crowdsourcing is a great solution.”
IMBA mapping specialist Leslie Kehmeier said she’s been gathering nationwide trail data since 2012. The organization is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. Its MTB Project has interactive directions for rides all over North America.
“That’s a day-in, day-out process for me,” Kehmeier said. “We try to talk with all the land managers directly that trails are open for use with mountain bikes. The USGS liked the fact that we have everything vetted and curated.”
MTB already has 69 trails in Montana. They range from the eight-mile Mount Helena Ridge Ride to the 21-mile Buttercup Loop in Sleeping Child Canyon near Hamilton.
“People upload their own routes and pictures to MTB,” said Pat Doyle, the Helena Tourism Alliance’s outreach director and biking fan. “In the Helena area alone, there are 75 miles of trails in the South Hills and lots more in the surrounding area. We market mountain biking heavily in Helena.”
The Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association also has been busy cataloging bike maps nationwide for publication. In the past month, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has approved maps showing 1,253 new miles of bike routes. Recent additions include 584.4 miles along Florida’s Atlantic Coast from Key West to Jacksonville, which expands the Atlantic Coast Route.
“With each new route and each new state in the U.S. Bicycle Route System, we will soon see this network reach every corner of America, from urban to rural areas,” said Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association. “Given the project’s momentum, we expect that, over time, the USBRS will become the largest official bicycle route network on the planet.”