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It was a bright warm morning as Joseph Nagle, wearing a florescent orange construction vest and holding an electronic tablet, crested the top of Mars Hill as he hiked up a section of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System.

At the top of the hill stood a sign warning those using the trail of the same sudden, steep slope that Nagle just ascended. He took out the tablet, dropping a marking on a digital map, recording the sign's location, its purpose and its material.

One down, countless more to go.

While many students at Northern Arizona University may rarely leave campus, Nagle is going to see a lot of Flagstaff as he travels down every mile of the city’s urban trail system.

That’s because as part of his internship with Flagstaff's parks department, Nagle is walking and biking all 56 miles of the urban trail in order to map every sign, bench, trash can, bollard and fence along the trail so it can be recorded and uploaded into the city’s digital mapping system.

“Before this, I knew Flagstaff a little bit but now I’m definitely getting to see the side of Flagstaff [students] don’t always see,” Nagle, who is a senior majoring in Parks and Recreation, said. “It’s kind of funny how these trails intertwine between houses and forests and roads.”

Supervisor Ralph Hearne, who oversees the city’s urban trail system as well as streetscapes, said it is a project the department has hoped to complete for some time. But up until now, Hearne said the department hasn’t had the manpower, nor the time, to dedicate someone to the project.

So when Nagle approached the department looking for a project, they knew exactly what they would have their new, unpaid intern begin working on.

And it is valuable information to have recorded, Hearne said. Currently, the department has only a small portion of the signs on the urban trail system mapped.

But when it comes to most signs, and pretty much every other object along the trail, Hearne said the department doesn’t even have them on physical maps.

“A lot of it is just in people’s heads,” Hearne said.

And this can pose a problem, as when an employee leaves or retires, the knowledge of where certain objects along the trail can go with them.

Once they have everything mapped digitally, Hearne said the department will also be able to create work orders for the tasks that need to be done.

And if they have a new employee, Hearne said they will be able to simply tell them exactly where to go instead of needing a veteran employee to show them.

“So it’s good information to have,” Hearne said, adding that the system has been used fairly extensively by other parts of the city.

Nagle is also marking down the sections of the trail that are washed out and may need to see maintenance, now or in the future.

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“If it’s something a bike tire can slip into, or if it’s something a runner can hurt their foot in, [I'll] mark it,” Nagle said.

Using that information, staff will be able to check up on marked problem areas after storms and perhaps even spend some time re-engineering the trail to improve it and prevent erosion in the future, Nagle said.

Nagle said he has just started, only having completed about five or six miles of the Karen Cooper Trail, which runs from Thorpe Park through the neighborhood of Coconino Estates to the Cheshire neighborhood.

But with almost 50 miles still to go, Nagle said he is not discouraged.

“I feel like in a good three to four week amount of time, [I’ll have it done],” Nagle said. “That will be my goal.”

As the weather continues to warm up, more and more people have been telling him they are rather envious.

“Everybody in the shop has been telling me they’re kind of jealous,” Nagle said.

It certainly beats the previous project the parks department had Nagle working on. Throughout the winter, the department had Nagle map all the routes and areas their staff has to clear of snow into the same system.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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