NSF funding to support tech for trail management

Spring 2022 marks the first full semester for a new grant at Virginia Tech sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant, titled “EAGER: SAI: SmarTrail: An Infrastructure Services Framework for Sustainable Trail Management”, will investigate ways to identify, communicate, and address sustainability issues on long-distance trails like the Appalachian Trail. The multidisciplinary project is led by Kris Wernstedt of the School of Public and International Affairs and includes as co-PIs Scott McCrickard of the Department of Computer Science and the Center for Human Computer Interaction, Shalini Misra of the School of Public and International Affairs, and Jeff Marion of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation and the USGS. There’s also a growing list of graduate students and undergrads as part of the project as well.

Staunton VA meetup: Kris Wernstedt, Shalini Misra, Jeff Marion, Morva Saaty, Scott McCrickard

The proposal seeks to explore the negative ecological impacts of hiking and camping, toward connecting trail maintainers like those at the ATC with the hikers who, quite literally, have boots on the ground on long-distance trails. Mobile phone apps like FarOut (formerly known as Guthook) and the many social media and journaling options provide ways to record observations and experiences, but there’s not a practical way for trail maintainers to process that information. We will be processing data from these and other media sources, and we will be conducting interviews with both trail maintainers and long-distance hikers. This analysis will enable us to design and develop tech solutions to help with the analysis and to aid with communication between stakeholders.

This SAI EAGER project will leverage understanding of the psycho-social-cultural dimensions of hiking with the affordances of digital tools and technologies to build a socio-technological information system that matches hikers needs with conservation objectives to support sustainable trail infrastructure management. Our project will integrate information on the spatial, socio-cognitive, and behavioral dimensions of Appalachian Trail hikers’ movements to understand how digital technologies mediate
psychological and social experiences in protected areas (demand side), with information on resource managers’ and trail maintainers perspectives on opportunities and challenges of digital tools and technologies in the context of their organizational settings (supply side). Using a mixed method participatory design approach that integrates social media, interpretive, ecological, and survey data, we will develop a prototype app-based trail infrastructure messaging system for experimental use and evaluation. This information-based approach will match supply and demand for trail infrastructure services and is based on an understanding of the different sociotechnological worlds people inhabit, their values, orientations, locations, and characteristics of the places they traverse.

From the NSF proposal project summary

We are looking at lots of avenues for people to contribute, including workshops, interviews, focus groups, roundtables, poster sessions, and more. Reach out to us if you’re interested in participating in any way, or keep an eye on this blog for opportunities. This post will be updated with images, links, and other information until there are sufficient findings for follow-up posts–stay tuned!

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