Connectivity Analysis Tool for Trail Land Protection Planning Launched

Adapted from The Connectivity Analysis Final Report by Don Owen.

Fifty years after the passage of the National Trails System Act, many critically important landscapes and resources of the National Trails System lack any legal protection.

Between 2013 and 2017, PNTS participated in a Collaborative Landscape Planning Program of the four Federal land-managing agencies (National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) that sought to identify critically important unprotected landscapes and corridor protection opportunities along National Scenic and Historic Trails.

This National-Trails-System-wide effort resulted in identification and protection of thousands of acres of land along many units of the National Trails System, significantly increasing the resiliency, sustainability, and accessibility of National Trails. The success of this effort led to the realization that an ongoing, National-Trail-System-wide project to identify trail protection needs would be of great value, which led to the development of a project to conduct a “Connectivity Analysis” for the entire National Trails System.

In 2018, PNTS and FHWA entered into a cooperative agreement to assist in providing the National Trails System information, corridor protection, and training to build capacity to better administer, manage, and sustain National Trails. A key component of that agreement was the development of a Corridor Protection Connectivity Analysis for National Scenic and Historic Trails. PNTS subsequently contracted The Trust for Public Land to conduct an integrated GIS analysis that would help identify and map National Trail protection throughout the entire system. 

This Connectivity Analysis was designed to:

• Identify the status of land protection—specifically, areas needed to provide continuous conserved corridors for National Scenic Trails and conserve high-potential historic sites and high-potential route segments and other resources for National Historic Trails. 

• Provide a Decision Support Tool to help trail administers and managers assess and categorize these areas. 

• Provide web-based tools that permit Trail Administers, managers, and the public to view the status of conservation for all National Scenic and Historic Trails. 

The Connectivity Analysis consists of two separate tools: a Decision Support Tool and a 3D Public Viewer. 

The Decision Support Tool is designed for internal use by the National Trail Administrators, managers, and National Trail Organization representations. It provides a wealth of GIS data and analytical tools to help users identify, analyze, and depict GIS data for potential land protection projects. It is password protected and requires authorization by a designated agency or organizational representative. 

The 3D Public Viewer is a basic tool that members of the public can use to view a map or visually “fly” a National Scenic or Historic Trail. This site is meant to provide a general sense of the locations of National Scenic and Historic Trails as overlap conserved and unconcerned lands (or cross or follow rivers and other public waterways). The site includes a disclaimer directing the public to National Trail-administering agencies and organizations for further information. 

The initial version of this Connectivity Analysis, which is now complete, provides important information at a national-level scale that can help National Trail-administering agencies and National Trail Organizations make decisions about trail protection for the 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails designated by Congress. 

Specifically, it will help PNTS, its member organizations, agency partners, and the National Trail System Council begin to quantify the needs for National Scenic and Historic Trail protection; identify potential opportunities for trail protection; and engage other partners, including State and local government agencies, land trusts, conservation organizations, and historic preservation organizations that share common ground in conserving lands along National Scenic and Historic Trails.

Webinars will be offered periodically for representatives of Trail managers and organizations interested in using the tool. 

To view the 3D Public Viewer:

The Decision Support Tool can be accessed at the following website:

NOTE: Access to the Decision Support Tool site must be approved by the National Trail agency administrator or National Trail organization manager (usually, the Executive Director). 

Contact your National Trail agency administrator or National Trail organization manager for instructions on how to create a login.