A team of Forest Preserve District employees will hit the trails this summer and fall with something that looks like a jogging stroller, but is really a sophisticated instrument designed to measure the paths.
They'll push the device along all 127 miles of paved, crushed limestone and natural surface trails located throughout the District's preserves.
The effort, which only a handful of governmental entities are implementing across the country, is part of the Forest Preserve's High Efficiency Trail Assessment Program. The program will lead to valuable information for all trail users, especially those with disabilities.
The recording device in the stroller contains a series of sensors that record trail slope, cross slope (the change in elevation from side to side), distance and obstructions.
Chronicling obstructions will be important for anyone who cannot physically handle more challenging trails, said Cori Crawford, the District's planning and geographic information system coordinator, who is overseeing the project.
"We are trying to get more information so people can make better decisions about our trails before going out to a preserve," she said. "They'll know how steep a trail is and what type of surface it has and obstacles they might encounter."
For instance, someone with a small child or a person who just had knee replacement surgery may seek a flat, easy trail for a walk. Some people also want to know which trails have stairs, roots or other obstructions that stick out into the path. All of those kinds of details will be collected during the program.
By measuring the grade of each path, trail distances will be more accurate than they have been in the past, Crawford added. Also, trail "stations" or spots along the paths will be recorded and linked to GPS every time there is a grade or cross slope change of a certain percentage or every so many feet, depending on the trail.
All of this data will be used to produce information sheets on each path, and this information will be posted at each trailhead.
"Ultimately, our goal is to provide detailed signage or information so path users can see what they will encounter on the trails," Crawford said.
About one-third of the trails have been assessed so far, and the data collection will continue through October.