HOP!: a PGIS and citizen science approach to monitoring the condition of upland paths
Abstract: This research project was inspired by the increase in popularity of hillwalking and the problem of the lack of monitoring and maintenance of upland paths which may lead to serious deterioration of those paths. Wicklow Mountains National Park (WMNP), just south of Dublin City in Ireland, has a large network of mostly informal upland paths. A comprehensive baseline survey of many of these paths was carried out by a professional in 2002/3, but they have not been surveyed since. The aim of the research is to design an app to collect data on the condition of hiking paths in WMNP using a PGIS approach combined with citizen science, and to compare the current condition with that recorded in 2002/3 surveys. The PGIS approach to collecting data on path condition involved consultations with the District Conservation Officer of WMNP and with hillwalkers, which were held at a number of stages during the project. These consultations informed the design of the path condition survey, the app, and the format of the presentation of the results in GIS. They also resulted in the recruitment of citizen scientists to carry out the surveys. An app called HOP! (which stands for How’s Our Path!) was developed in PhoneGap and runs on iOS and Android mobile devices. The app prompts the user to record path condition indicators, including path width, depth and braiding, and to take photographs at pre-set target points along a chosen hiking path. Eight of the twenty four WMNP paths surveyed in 2002/3 were successfully surveyed in 2016/17 with the HOP! app by five hillwalkers, acting as volunteer data collectors. The 2002/3 path condition data was converted into a structured format in order to display it in ArcGIS and in the app, and to compare the current condition with that recorded in 2002/3. The HOP! app was found to be easy to use and effective, and geolocated photographs, including a hiking pole to assist in judging scale, were found to be very valuable in recording the path condition. While 60% of the locations surveyed showed some improvement or no change in overall path condition, 71% of these locations had deteriorated in some way – path widening, deepening or braiding. The overall condition of six of the eight paths was found to have disimproved since they were surveyed in 2002/3. It is concluded that valuable path condition data can be collected by volunteers using the HOP! app.
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