Official Maps Plot Future Trails

Posted: July 9, 2012

Official maps can identify both existing and proposed uses such as streets, watercourses, parks, open space, pedestrian ways including trails, flood plains and control basins, and other public lands and facilities that would be of value to the community.
Old railbeds can be marked as future trails on official maps.

Old railbeds can be marked as future trails on official maps.

Recently I attended a meeting at which the value of an official map for  municipalities was discussed.  Official maps are a visioning or strategic planning tool for municipalities.  They provide a road map for the future development of the municipality.

Just because it's on the official map does not mean something will be created.  The map is an effective negotiation tool to achieve some public goals for the community.  When development of a property is proposed, the official map can be used to negotiate with the developer to help achieve these goals.  However, a property may lie dormant without development for many years.  The official map will not come into play for that property unless development is proposed. Only about 64 municipalities and one county in Pennsylvania have official maps at this time.

Communities that create official maps often do so in support of recreational trails, open space and farmland preservation, or street connectivity between developments. Plotting railroad rights-of-way, especially abandoned railroad beds, is valuable as municipalities plan a series of trails that can be used for recreation or connectivity between developments and retail centers.

Walking trails were quite common in rural areas up until about World War II. After all, since so many people walked, it was helpful to be able to shorten your route by a mile or two by cutting through someone's woods or through the edge of a field.  The trails sprang up as needed.

The Woods Trail on my parents' property was used by others to access a road on the other side of their farm.  I used a different trail that cut through woods and a field to get to my friend's house.  Residents older than myself used that same trail to walk to the one-room school up the hill.  Other residents used a steep trail through woods and over a rocky cliff so they could swim in the river below. 

We're still walking today.  It's for recreational/health reasons now, not merely to travel to another farm or the swimming hole.  Today municipalities are stepping up to provide public trails for everyone to use.  They are developed and maintained with public funds. Trails can be developed through easement or outright purchase of land.  An official map can lay out a proposed trail long before it is ever completed.  It provides the idea and structure under which a trail can be developed sometime in the future.

For more information about official maps, see The Official Map: A Handbook for Preserving and Providing Public Lands and Facilities, (PUB 703),  a joint publication of PennDoT, PaDCNR, PaDCED, and PA Land Trust Association.