Project Leader: Heidi Brill Project Dates: August through November 2010 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 208.860.8728
Inside TRACs (TRail Assessment And Conditions Surveys)
by Jessica Wyatt
For years the Forest Service has relied on firsthand knowledge of the trail to determine the work needing to be done on the trails. However, due to several factors, many of the people who had this firsthand knowledge either retired or are no longer in the field.
With this loss of people, knowledgeable trail workers were also lost. So around 1991 the Chief of the Forest Service requested that a program for keeping track of trail conditions be formed to better prioritize trail conditions and maintainenance. From this request came the precursor to the TRACs program: Infra Trails systems.
Approximately eight years after this system was developed, the Forest Service set standards for trail surveying. One of these standards required districts to complete surveys for a set percentage of their trail systems over a specific time period. This requirement helped make sure that districts did have some knowledge of the trails. However, the downside was that there was no uniform way this information was taken. From this dilemma, TRACs was developed.
The TRACs program allows users to efficiently record data. It is a combination of different assessment tools, including the Infra Trails system. The TRACs program has four components: Trail Management Objectives, TRACs surveys, trail logs, and trail work lists.
In 2009, the federal government enacted The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). This $787 billion dollar stimulus bill was created to help the United States economy recover by investing in environmental protection, community development projects and infrastructure that will have economic benefits for years to come. To receive this funding, agencies and other organizations had to apply for the money.
Region 9 of the Forest Service applied and received the ARRA grant for financial assistance with the TRACs program to complete needed survey work on trails. After receiving the grant, they partnered with the SCA to provide survey support for the TRACs program.
The TRACs survey is composed of several different elements that lead to a complete understanding of what condition that trail is in.
• Productivity factors
• Sign inventories
• Photo records
• Data dictionary
• Survey forms
• Tools involved
Productivity factors are the physical factors influencing the trails, such as the side slope, soil type, trail grade, brush and regeneration vegetation and the timber type. Knowing these factors help the department determine the cost to reconstruct or maintain the trail. Productivity factors are taken in locations that are determined by the trail class type. Trails are assigned classes, ranging from minimally developed (class 1) to highly developed (class 5). The detail with which we survey is directly related to each trail’s class.
Another element of the TRACs survey is the sign inventory, which helps the department develop an inventory of the signs along the trail by providing a visual image and detailed description of the condition of each sign. This information helps plan maintenance and possible replacement of signs.
Another component is photo records. These pictures help us better describe the situation, whether it be a snapped tree or a river crossing with no ford. For the photo records we use two forms: a log and photo record. The logs are used on the trail to summarize the photo and to keep account of the mileage or GPS readings of where the feature was located. The photo record is an electronic form in which the photo is inserted with its description and location.
The data dictionary is a comprehensive reference document that has the set trail features, tasks, units of measure, and severity factors. It both standardizes and organizes features and their associated tasks. The data dictionary includes the feature type, feature category, feature codes, task code, task description, task condition class, and task severity factor. The data dictionary is then used to help fill out the survey form. There is both a hardcopy data dictionary, to be used with the hardcopy survey forms, and one programmed into the GPS unit for electronic documentation.
The survey forms are hard copy documentation of the information taken by the GPS unit. These forms allow for a feature to be recorded using a code from the data dictionary, condition of the feature, a task code and a position in either feet or GPS-recorded location (depending on the trail type). The form also allows for measurements of the feature and severity levels to be recorded.
Other tools we use to conduct the TRACs survey are GPS, cyclometer, tape measure, clinometer, and camera. The GPS is an electronic device that records features based on the triangulation of satellites. The cyclometer (a wheel with a counter) keeps precise linear measurement of the trail and its features, and therefore helps to determine where productivity factors need to be measured. The tape measure is used to measure signs, diameter of trees, radii of switchbacks and climbing turns, and other trail features as needed. The clinometer is used to measure the trail grade and side slope. The camera is used to capture photos of features.
Our crew has come up with an efficient system of dividing these tasks and tools to allow for maximum mileage covered in a day. On a typical day the SCA crew averages 4 miles, however, the mileage we are able to complete correlates directly to the condition of the trail, and the class of the trail. For example, a trail that is in poorer condition will take longer to survey, because of the excessive features needing documentation. Also, trails with a higher class designation require more precise measurements and therefore increase the time needed to survey it.
After we delegate jobs and discuss the plan and trail management objective for the trail, we head off to survey. During our TRACs surveys, we document the existing conditions of the trail by inventorying current features. For example if we encounter a log waterbar, we note that it exists, what condition it is in (needs maintenance, repair, replacement, etc), measure its dimensions, and take a photo. Or we may encounter a hazardous tree. Again, we note that it exists, measure its diameter, determine the severity and whether or not it is a critical task, take a photo, and mark its location.
In addition to surveying existing features, we are using the TRACs survey to make suggestions for improvement to the agency. For example, if we run into an area with severely gullied trail, depending on several factors, we may suggest a reroute if the drainage is poor or a series of check dams or to bring in fill material.
Once the information is collected, trail survey data is give to the District for analysis. These surveys will help to determine the costs of future trail projects, identify the urgency of trail maintenance, and will influence the allocation of project funding for years to come.
Resulting from the excellent work and progress of our crew, the SCA is looking to partner with agencies nationwide, and has developed an entirely new division within the SCA dedicated to assist with the TRACs program. Region 9 and other agencies have decided to partner with the SCA in the future to help with their survey work.
Our crew has been proud to have served as the very first TRACs crew for both the SCA and Forest Service Region 9.