A vision for virtual trails on Bowen Island

Trails are a delight on Bowen Island. But many new parks and trails are unknown to us, as there hasn’t been an easy place to find out about them. Some trail systems, like those on Mount Gardner, can actually be treacherous without information before and during the trip. Trails connect nature to heritage to health to our economy. So we’d like to do something to help the community and visitors explore and enrich our network of paths on Bowen. The project has involvement from many groups and individuals, and is seeking funding to fulfill our vision.

Working with Storm Mountain Developments, the Bowen Island Municipality, The Rotary Club, Tourism Bowen Island and other groups, we would like to create an interactive online map of Bowen Island’s trails: bowentrails.ca.


The core feature will be interactive maps that draw on data from Islands Trust, the Municipality, recent mapping work done by the Rotary Club, and other sources. It will show trails and other features on the island. Stakeholder input will guide which trails and features are included on this public platform. By interactive, we mean that the user will be able to scale it, click on features for more information (such as ferry and bus schedules), change base maps and more.

We and community partners would build web pages with information on topics such as trail conditions, animals and heritage.

Quick response codes – similar to bar codes – on trail posts would allow people using mobile devices to easily access the map and information specific to points on the physical trails. This means that many ideas could be unobtrusively shared without creating large signs or kiosks in parks. When they scan the printed marker, a page will come up on their device with a ‘you are here’ marker on an interactive map – very much like a Google map.

Together these interactive trail markers create ‘virtual trails’. So a person could follow a route that highlights history for example, which might differ from one featuring wildlife or ecosystems. Perhaps they would follow a program of exercises featured in a sequence along the trail.

Main activities

  • Consult with stakeholders; create and maintain ongoing partnerships
  • Create working maps, beginning with Crippen Park and Mount Gardner trails
  • Add data from Municipality and Bowen Rotary to map
  • Add information pages, such as photographs, trail conditions, features such as the library, info about animals.
  • Create and post QR codes on trail posts, linking to web pages and maps
  • Print large scale maps for posting in the new kiosk being built by First Credit Union on the pier in Snug Cove, with an introduction to the interactive map and virtual trails

Imaginary Tour

The Bowen Trail project is a social, physical & virtual trail. Here’s an imaginary walkthrough.

1.     The Kiosk

The QR code looks like a checkerboard and functions much like a bar code.

The QR code looks like a checkerboard and functions much like a bar code.

A group of friends comes off the ferry on foot. They find the kiosk on the pier, and see a display introducing the interactive map and virtual trails. Large hanging maps show trails around the Cove, Crippen Park, Killarney Lake and Mount Gardner. The maps are accurate due to the work of Rotary Club volunteers who have mapped the trails accurately using GPS plotters.

The display also introduces QR codes. People will find these markers placed discretely on trail posts in the park and around the island. One visitor has no scanning app. Instructions in the kiosk guide them to download a free one to their mobile phone. They scan the QR code on the display, to see how it works.

A video opens on their cell phone (with a message asking them to use headphones). It features an island personality welcoming them to the Island. Maybe she tells them a little piece of history as well. That person passes off to another – who promises to meet them virtually at the next trail marker by the Library.

2. Trail Posts

The QR marker doesn't take up much space.

The QR marker doesn’t take up much space.

The group walks to the Library. They find two QR codes on a signpost. These are in the form of little plates, perhaps 3cm x 6cm. Each has a label and a little checkerboard pattern.

A couple of people scan the codes on a mobile phone or tablet. Some in the group don’t want to use any technology; luckily the small QR tags are unobtrusive.

One person brings up the interactive trail map, and the group decides to walk through Snug Cove, around Killarney Lake and up to Artisan Square, then back to the Cove to catch the ferry. The map shows trails, likely walking time, feature icons for viewpoints, historical locations and more.

Another person in the group has scanned the code for the Library. The video presenter explains that it used to be the Old General Store, became the Library, and is now called the Cove Creative Corner. It shows vintage photos. Elsewhere on the same page as the video, she finds out about an art show on now that she is interested in.

2.     Welcoming to unexpected places

Near the base of Mt. Gardener, a QR tag links to a video of the view from the top. Seeing how spectacular it will be, they decide to extend their hike for the view. They also have come across information about how beavers are reshaping the landscape near the meadow and Killarney Lake. They notice a class of markers dedicated to mountain biking, and plan a return visit.

In the park, and especially up Mt. Gardner, people are surprised to find a clearly marked set of trails that take them to views they had never been able to find before.

The Rotary Club, in concert with the provincial government and the North Shore Hikers Club, has mapped and maintained trails on the mountain. It is now far safer than in the past, when it was easy to get lost and hard to find all the nicest trails.It is still a challenging hike, but the group is confident they can get up and down in a certain time so they can still go for a meal and get back to the mainland. In some sections of the trail there is no cell reception. The physical trail markers let you know where you are with small maps showing relevant sections of the trail.

At the top of the mountain, there is an amazing view. They eat their snacks and chat, and give grief to one person who is using her iPad to scan another posted QR code. She has opened a virtual reality module. As she pans the horizon with her iPad, place names appear overlaid on a live image of the view. She turns toward Gibsons, and labels mark the location of the harbour, Keats and the Paisley Islands. The others admit it’s cool.

4. Bowen Tourism and Economy

Exhausted after their hike, the group busses back across the island – the schedule easily found on a marker at the end of the trail. They also can directly access the ferry schedule, so they know how much time they have to shop, eat and explore.

While QR codes in the parks are non-commercial, there’s no harm in putting up posts near Artisan Square and the Cove giving directions to businesses, coming events, videos featuring historical episodes, even projects made up by school kids. The system is dynamic, changing and engaged with the community. It can alert people to events, around the corner or coming in future.

As they leave they can post a video about their experience to The Bowen Trail website or Facebook page. At home they can revisit all the web pages they saw using the codes on the trail markers, and Like them for others to see. Bowen Tourism and partners monitor the postings and site traffic to learn more about how visitors are experiencing the island, and what might interest them in future, while expanding its social network. A coordinating group liaises with local groups seeking access and providing support for new ideas. A new group of visitors comes off the ferry for a visit. They’ve heard about the Bowen Trail…

John Dowler
Bowen Island, BC
May 2015

What’s your vision?

BowenTrails.ca is a community map. As much as it shows the physical landscape, it can also link us to the landscape of the past, or tune us in to the things we might not notice if we didn’t look closer at what is around us.

We will welcome content from local groups and individuals. They will be able to:

  • suggest features to add to the interactive maps
  • create web pages for articles and photos related to locations on an interactive map
  • print QR trail markers to instantly bring up those pages when scanned

What would you like to see on the map? Do you have an idea of how the site could draw creativity from the community or offer another way of seeing?

Contact us at [email protected].

A creative example

Hear Here

Several musicians sing and record a song they wrote, each at a different location on Bowen Island. We put the locations of these songs on the map, and QR markers at the locations in the real world. People can view where the song will be on the map, but have to go to the location and scan the code in order to hear it. When they do, they experience something that happened at a different time, in different weather, but in the same place where they stand. It extends and enriches the meaning of that place for visitors.