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State Trails Master Plan Update Project

Framework and outline for the strategic plan updated for Colorado State Trails Program.

By Stuart H. Macdonald

Map of Colorado SUMMARY:

Colorado State Parks in the process of a complete revision of the State Recreational Trails Master Plan. A major component will be creating a Geographic Information System trails data base and digitizing trail maps from a wide variety of sources. We are working with the USDA Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, local governments, and trail user groups. A key part of the project will be to develop a partnership with a university program to help with its completion by the end of 1997.


The State Recreational Trails Master Plan identifies existing and planned trails throughout Colorado and promotes statewide coordination on trail development and management. The purpose of the Plan is to:

  • Give State Parks a clear picture of the statewide trails system.
  • Identify priority corridors and help us make decisions on funding.
  • Integrate trail planning on different public lands: local, state, and federal
  • Encourage cooperation among counties and between counties and federal land management agencies.

The Plan is not:

  • An inventory of every trail in Colorado.
  • A source of "where to hike" information for the general public.

Examples of how the new Plan would be used and who would use it:

  • State Parks identifies miles of trails planned for a particular region, or built over a specified number of years.
  • State Parks updates the Plan with new trail plans created by other agencies.
  • State Parks prints a trails plan map at a variety of scales that can be easily updated or modified based on the trails data base.
  • State Parks prints small-scale maps of a trail or a region for use in publications.
  • State Parks, town, and county governments collaborate on trail needs for a region.
  • State Parks or the Forest Service identify areas where development of local trail networks is important.
  • Local governments use the Plan's GIS format and attributes as a model when creating a new trails plan for their jurisdiction.
  • Local governments download GIS files from the Plan to use for local trail planning.
  • Local governments use a trail's status on the Plan to raise funds or support for a trail project.
  • Cities use detail available on GIS to show urban trails accurately.
  • Trail user groups work with BLM or Forest Service to identify priority trail projects, or to add new trails to the Plan, or to identify networks using existing trails.
  • Federal agencies identify priority trailhead projects or trails needing improvement.
  • Any agency or user group imports the trail data base to create a trail map with shaded topography or other graphic features.


Expand the Plan to include more backcountry trails (focus has been on urban greenways).

Expand the Plan to include motorized and shared-use recreation routes.

Gather current trails plans from local, state and federal government agencies, non-profit groups, trail user groups.

Select the most useful GIS format for the data base.

Select attributes for trails to be included in the GIS data base.

Collect existing GIS maps and data for trails.

Digitize additional trails as needed and feasible from existing maps and plans.

Produce computer-based maps for the Plan in appropriate scales.

Tie the two databases, for trail contacts and trail grants, to the Plan.

Update the Plan text on current statewide trail issues and needs.


The following is a list of information we would like to acquire for each trail that becomes part of the Plan. Each trail (or major trail segment) will be identified in the GIS database and will include several pieces of information that can be updated in future years. These pieces of information are called attributes or themes. For instance, the data base could be sorted to find all trails that are both unpaved and allow bicycles. A map could be printed out showing just these trails.

Attributes under consideration are:

Trail name or identifier:

  • Length of trail or trail segment
  • Average width of trail or trail segment

Trail Status:

  • Planned
  • Existing

Trail Surface:

  • Paved
  • Improved (crushed rock)
  • Natural surface

Uses Permitted:

  • Pedestrians (hike, walk, run)
  • Horses
  • Bicycles
  • Trail motorcycles
  • All-terrain vehicles
  • Four-wheel drive vehicles
  • Winter Uses Permitted (if applicable)
  • Snowmobiles
  • Cross-country skis

Other Routes Used as Trails:

  • Paved roads and streets used as bike routes
  • Unpaved roads used as recreation routes

Other GIS data that may be included in the plan:

  • Irrigation canals and ditches
  • other utilities with private rights-of-way
  • Railroad corridors abandoned or proposed for abandonment
  • Wildlife habitat and endangered species information
  • Trailheads


State Parks is interested in discussing ideas for a partnership with a college or graduate level program, class, or individual. The project will provide a real-world planning experience with local, state, and federal agencies. The GIS component will require understanding project needs, adapting standard systems, importing currently-available data, and digitizing as much additional information as feasible. The project will be coordinated by knowledgeable professionals from State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources. Funding for expenses, materials, etc. will be available, and a budget for additional digitizing of maps will be developed based on the need identified during the project. State Parks currently has ArcInfo and ArcView on Windows computers and would be likely to maintain the GIS database in this format if it the most widely available to local and federal agencies. In addition State Parks may acquire a Macintosh-based GIS program for other work with the data base.


The following information is being discussed by U. S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management staff and with trail users to update criteria for adding trails to the State Recreational Trails Master Plan. These concepts are being used to identify the priorities or most important trail corridors.

Important concepts for back-country trails:

  • Statewide or regional significance, e.g. Kokopelli's Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Colorado Trail
  • Crucial to special recreation (14er trails)
  • Special or unique; hot springs, fossils, overlooks
  • Accessible to large numbers of people
  • Trails that form systems or networks
  • Completing loops and "missing links"
  • Creation of a sensible, purposeful system
  • Barrier free trails
  • Addressing safety problems
  • Following major streams or other geographic lines
  • Rails to trails
  • Linking communities
  • Scenic Byway connections
  • Heavy current or potential use
  • Linking communities to public lands
  • Developing alternatives to high-use routes
  • Coordinating between jurisdictions

The criteria for including trails in the Plan currently are:

"A Priority I trail corridor is part of a cross-state trail corridor which: Links communities; or Connects state parks and major recreation areas; or Follows a major waterway corridor."

A Priority II trail corridor is a significant part of a regional trails system which:

"Links communities to Priority I trails; or Creates and/or enhances major regional trails; or Connects parks, lakes, and stream corridors to Priority I trails."

A Priority III trail forms part of a community trail network.

Related topics:

More resources:

Updated September 1, 2006

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