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Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.


How Outdoor Alliance Is Using Geospatial Data to Protect Your Weekend Adventures

Tania Lown-Hecht

Bears Ears, Utah, where Outdoor Alliance is using geospatial data to protect climbing and other outdoor recreation. Photo credit: Mike Shaw.

Bears Ears, Utah, where Outdoor Alliance is using geospatial data to protect climbing and other outdoor recreation. Photo credit: Mike Shaw.

At Outdoor Alliance, we work on many different levels to protect and promote human-powered outdoor adventures. From action alerts to advocacy education to spending days on the Hill, our small team works hard to promote conservation, bring people into advocacy work, and ensure access to public lands for climbing, paddling, backcountry skiing, hiking, mountaineering, and mountain biking. 

As data becomes increasingly important in shaping land management, Outdoor Alliance developed a Geographic Information Systems Lab (GIS Lab). Policy and lawmakers tend to listen more carefully to us when we can share information developed from high-quality geospatial data. Our goal is to develop models that clarify complex policy and natural resource concepts in a way that is compelling and usable, and to provide models that clarify complex policy and natural resource questions. The GIS Lab enables our community and policy makers to better evaluate, understand and visualize complex geospatial relationships that result in better policy outcomes for our public lands. The GIS Lab is an integral part of Outdoor Alliance’s mission to conserve and protect the human-powered outdoor experience

In the last two years, our GIS Lab has accomplished a lot. Here’s a short conversation with Levi Rose, Geospatial Analyst, about his work in the Lab over the past year, how he has been using data to protect recreation resources, and what you can do to contribute.

What are some of the big projects you’ve tackled over the past year?

In the past year, we have had a number of big projects. One of them was working on the Shoshone National Forest with Winter Wildlands Alliance. The National Forest is currently updating Winter Travel Management Plans to figure out what areas should be opened to motorized winter recreation, which could cause potential conflicts with backcountry skiers. One of the big challenges was figuring out what areas were going to be most important to backcountry skiers. We have some information from Powder Project, but we wanted to identify accessible backcountry skiing areas more comprehensively, so that we could protect them.

We used information on snow depth to see what areas in the Forest were skiable, and combined this information with snowplowed roads so that we could figure out which skiable areas were accessible by road. We cross-referenced potential backcountry skiing areas with proposed winter motorized use zones, and identified two mountain passes where there could be potential conflict between skiers and motorized users.  To help facilitate winter travel planning in the Shoshone, GIS analysis allowed us to identify potential conflicts among users and to protect the places backcountry skiers care about.


Outdoor Alliance has eight member groups now. How are you working with them to use data to protect the activities they represent?

The Lab has a project with almost every single member organization, and they are reaching out more frequently as they are learning how geospatial data can create deeper understanding and location-based insights. Along with the Shoshone National Forest Project with Winter Wildlands Alliance, we’ve worked with a number of different groups to protect climbing, mountain biking, human-powered recreation, and even to boost economic impacts.

For instance, we’ve been working with Access Fund on a project that highlights how investing in rock climbing can benefit distressed economies of local communities. We’ve also been working with IMBA on a project at Crater Lake to figure out how proposed Wilderness might impact mountain biking trails. We created a number of maps for our campaign on Bears Ears to locate important climbing, mountain biking, paddling, and hiking resources that helped ensure that the National Monument designation specifically called for protections of recreation.

We’re also working on Forest Planning in a few places, including the Custer-Gallatin National Forests in Montana and the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina. We want to make sure that the Forest Service has the best data on outdoor recreation so it can make good decisions about how to protect it.


For the average person entering data on Adventure Project, why is this data important?

When you’re entering data from your weekend ride or climb on Adventure Projects, you’re doing more than just sharing location-based information on a particular place. Through a data sharing agreement with Adventure Projects, we use crowdsourced data to help protect outdoor recreation. One way we do this is through Forest Planning.

When it’s planning how to manage our National Forests, the U.S. Forest Service now incorporates data from all stakeholders. Data is the foundation for everything that planners use, and planning is so important for what’s prioritized on public lands. The Forest Service uses the planning process to figure out how to prioritize the many different activities that happen on National Forests, from logging to grazing to climbing. This means that when you enter data on Adventure Project, it actually does some good to protect these places, because we use this information to highlight where people go and ensure that those trails, crags, and facilities are protected.

Check out more of the work of our GIS Lab here, or enter information on where you like to go outside right here.