by Dave Halsey, NOHVCC Contributing Writer
There are over 3,000 counties in the United States. Not many manage trail systems for off-highway vehicles (OHVs). Lewis County, New York, does. And it recently launched a mobile app to promote its trails, show riders their GPS location while riding on them, and much more.
Last September, Lewis County released its “Summer Recreation” mobile app, giving residents and visitors the ability to use their mobile devices to see all the recreational opportunities the county has to offer, including riding on its system of 50 miles of trails and 450 miles of seasonal roads open to ATVs. A second, “Winter Recreation” mobile app includes 600 miles of snowmobile trails.
“We did it with the idea that it would be advertising for the county to bring in more tourists,” said Jackie Mahoney, Director of the Lewis County Recreation, Forestry and Parks. “It was a partnership between my department, the Planning Department and the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce.”
The Lewis County Summer app gives riders the ability to view the entire trail system on smartphones and tablets. They can see the roads and trails open to ATVs, then add layers of information that show destinations and rider services, including campsites, historic sites, parks and waterfalls, plus gas stations, restaurants and lodging. The newest layer is a “Maple Trail,” showing the location of the American Maple Museum and six maple syrup operations, some accessible by ATV. Ride planning can be done on a web site, created with the same design as the mobile app.
While riding their ATVs, app users can mark and save favorite spots as waypoints. They can also capture and save a route they ride as a “breadcrumb track,” then email it to themselves or friends to display in Google Earth or in their copy of the app.
Mohawk Valley GIS developed the apps for Lewis County. Based in Utica, NY, it provides technology and GIS services to businesses, governments and non-profit organizations. It has also created mobile apps for snowmobile trails in several other New York counties, as well as for the entire snowmobile trail systems in New York and Vermont.
In addition to ATV and snowmobile trails, the Lewis County Summer and Winter apps show the full extent of recreational opportunities in the county, including map layers for hiking, mountain biking, road biking, golf, fishing, horseback riding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. For the first 5 months the apps were in use, about 1,500 downloads were recorded. That number is expected to rise sharply when the ATV trail system opens in the spring. The county tracks the gender and age of those using the apps, and the number of times users view the businesses listed, so it can report the level of success to the county board and the chamber of commerce. That helps them know where to focus resources in the future to meet the needs of residents and tourists. “We use Google Analytics to collect our data,” said Frank Pace, Director of Planning. “We can break it down for ATV riders, to tell us what pins are being pushed on the app, and how many people visited each business or facility on the app.”
As you might expect, young adults and parents with small children use the apps more than their parents and grandparents, and represent a key target audience the county and chamber want to reach. “For that 25 to 34 age group, technology is the driver. With the apps, we wanted to make sure we reach those groups of people,” said Pace. He reports that of all app users, 27.5% are 18 to 24 years old, 33.5% are 25 to 34, 15.5% are 35 to 44, 12.5% are 45 to 54, and less than 5% are 55 to 65.
The county has signed agreements with three rider clubs to maintain its ATV trail system: the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club, Tug Hill Wheelers ATV Club and Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association.
The new web site and mobile apps were funded through an economic development program, and just six months in use are proving successful. “The biggest thing we’ve noticed is an increase in downloads and an increase in sales tax in the county,” said Mahoney. “We can’t relate the tax to any one thing. We had a great snow season last year. And we’re getting more day use (of recreation opportunities). The county has committed to this and we’re hoping to see an even bigger increase.”
The Lewis County Summer and Winter Recreation mobile apps are free, and available on app stores. They can also be downloaded from the county’s recreation web site: www.adirondackstughill.com. Once downloaded, when the GPS on a mobile device is turned on, cell service is not required to use the mobile apps.