Watching the roads less travelled on the information highway

It may not seem like surfing the Web has much to do with fresh air and exercise, but Compaq Canada is hoping to change that notion.

A new Web-based initiative, called TrailPAQ, is the company’s million-dollar millennium gift to the country – a one-stop destination for accessing Canadian trail information from anywhere in the world.

TrailPAQ includes a financial assistance program for community trail groups towards their acquisition of abandoned railway lines, as well as trail inventory and mapping. The TrailPAQ community funding program will be administered by Go for Green Inc.- an Ottawa-based national non-profit organization – and financed by Compaq as part of a $1 million, 10-year agreement reached between the two companies last year.

Trail data – such as length, grade, accessibility, location, geography and nearby amenities -is collected by teams in every province across Canada. The information is then entered into a database using specialized software called TrailWare, licensed from Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Beneficial Designs Inc.

“For trail builders, TrailPAQ will provide on-line information and support, and will be an access point for both technical and financial support,” said Stephen Grundy, executive director and national facilitator of Go For Green.

“For trail users, TrailPAQ is an on-line travel guide and trip planner, ultimately providing detailed information on thousands of community trails to Canadians and a worldwide audience.”

The government of Canada is also supporting TrailPAQ with more than $800,000 through the Canadian Millennium Partnership Program.

“This program funds up to one third of eligible project costs while other organizations and the private sector provide the remaining two thirds,” said Marcel Proulx, Member of Parliament for Hull-Aylmer, Que.

“TrailPAQ is a wonderful electronic tool that will bring Canada’s wealth of municipal, provincial and national trails to everyone who has access to a computer.”

Dan Andrews, the Ontario TrailPAQ team leader for Go For Green, and partner of the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, said it used to be quite difficult for an individual to gather useful data about various trails in Canada.

“There’s a lot of information out there about trails. The problem was there was no real central hub where you could find all the trail information. And what TrailPAQ does is allow a user anywhere in the world to find information about any of these managed trails,” said Andrews, who is based in Peterborough, Ont.

The TrailPAQ Web site includes a search engine, a community bulletin board, newsletters, trail monitors, a place for users to register new trails, and other various resources. Systems integration for the site was done by Carelton Place, Ont.-based Tomahawk Technologies Inc., and the Web design by Ottawa-based Pixel Voodoo.

Compaq donated the hardware for the project, including a Proliant server on which the Web site runs, as well as several Armada notebooks for the team leaders to use, so that data collected on the trails can be uploaded right away to the Web site. All the measurements collected by the teams are inventoried through the software, analysed, then posted to the site, Andrews said.

“If you have a washout – some erosion or some kind of management issue of a certain area – then somebody that has that software package and the data that they’ve collected can pick it up and say ‘647 metres along the trail, we have a washout.’ And you can go to that spot, prescribe the appropriate management technique and modify it. And if that changes the overall numbers in your averages, it takes all of five minutes to repost the information to the Internet,” he said.

Shawn Pollard, TrailPAQ’s Newfoundland team leader, said many people have become less active in the computer age, especially since the Internet’s inception, but sees this project as a good way to reach them and encourage more outdoor activity.

Deputy Health Minister Ian Potter said TrailPAQ addresses two key health issues that are of concern today, which are: “The state of physical inactivity and the state of air quality that Canadians breathe.” He said more than two thirds of Canadians are not sufficiently active to maintain their health and that up to 16,000 premature deaths per year in Canada can be attributed to air pollution.

In fact, environmental concern was one of the strongest motivators for Compaq’s involvement in the project, said Ronald Mitchell, the company’s vice-president of communications.

“This will be Compaq Canada’s legacy to Canada for generations to come. So if you are asking why a technology company has donated a million dollars toward a Canadian trails Web site and the reclamation of abandoned railway lines, let me offer a little explanation,” he said. “This investment reflects Compaq’s culture and its long-standing environmental leadership in the technology industry. We believe that businesses must work in partnership with our suppliers, our governments, industry groups and the communities in which we live and work in an effort to protect the environment.”

To date, more than 1,000 trails have been entered into the TrailPAQ database, with additional trails being added daily. More than 2,000 trails will be highlighted in the database by the end of the year.