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Backcountry Inventory

Grand Teton NP
Peter Lindstrom
Wildness can be seen as a continuum from the least-wild urban environment to the most pristine designated wilderness area. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), an interagency effort is underway to identify its most pristine lands. Because of the difficulty of classifying wildness directly, focus has been placed on mapping what is not wild. Projects to locate various kinds of human infrastructure, from trails and signs to power lines and cellular communication sites, have begun. Once they are complete, it will be possible to identify the most wild areas, allowing managers to preserve them for future generations.

As a part of the GYE, Grand Teton National Park has begun the process of mapping its infrastructure. A long-term, ongoing campsite inventory and a proposed trails inventory were combined and expanded to form a project with the goal of identifying all infrastructure in the backcountry. The necessary manpower and equipment was acquired through funding provided by the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. Seasonal volunteers and park rangers, guided by park GIS staff, used Trimble GeoExplorer 3 GPS units and digital cameras to document trails, campsites, signs, bridges, and cabins.

After two summers of data collection, over 350 miles of trails, 700 signs, 550 campsites, 200 bridges, and 8 cabins have been recorded, most with corresponding pictures (see above). GPS technology sped the collection process considerably - the campsite inventory was completed in two summers instead of the usual five. Besides being faster, the ease of recording attribute information with Trimble GPS units allowed the collection of more data, expanding its potential uses beyond just locating infrastructure. Attributes for item condiftion may be used (and regularly updated) by the park's trails foreman to identify items in need of repair. Social trails (not shown here) may be used to identify areas that need to be closed for regrowth. Very detailed campsite information (40+ separate attributes) can now be analyzed to locate campsites most in need of rehabilitation. Finally, park planners will be able to use this data to identify alternatives that have minimal impact on the park's wildest places.

GIS software, besides making it possible to produce maps of the inventory's progress, has been essential in analyzing the data to assist decision-making. Without it, many analyses would not be feasible. For example, once projects to map park utility infrastructure and collect more detailed visitor use information are implemented, these data layers will be combined with the backcountry data to model the variation of wildness throughout the park.

[NOTE: This entry will need to be reviewed by more park personnel before being published. Data need to be posted to the NPS Clearinghouse as well.]
April 08, 2004