OCTA Enhances Its Family of Websites (September 17, 2018)

OCTA was busy enhancing its online presence over the past year, and with help from you and our many chapters, we hope to continue expanding our reach across the nation and internationally with more and more offerings.

Late this summer, OCTA launched a completely reformatted national website at www.octa-trails.org. You’ll find a new website with more color, more images, and what we hope is an easier-to-navigate format. Drop-down menus at the very top of the page give you easy access to all content on the website, and each of these sections are highlighted further down the homepage with a short narrative and image explaining each section. In addition to more photos detailing our work, there is also a lot more video on the new website with plans to add much more over the coming months and years. Educational resources and interactive maps are also highlighted, as these items are shown to drive the most new traffic to our website.

At the very top of the new website is a link for “volunteer hours.” We hope that everyone who donates any time, mileage, or money to trail-related projects will log their work here. You can input your data as often as you like, or save it up for a one-time submission at any point during the year. The information you submit is automatically tabulated and can be downloaded on our end in a complete report that we can share with our colleagues and partners in an easy-to-read Excel file. Please do report on your activities, as these numbers are reported to the National Park Service who in turn uses these numbers to access funds in the “Volunteers in Parks” program. This year, those hours were leveraged into purchases of Terrain Navigator Pro mapping software to be used by our volunteers across the entire trails system. The numbers are also reported to the Partnership for the National Trails System, which compiles our numbers alongside those of all 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails to share with Congress in an effort to ensure full funding for the entirety of the National Trails System. We will remind you numerous times throughout the year to report your numbers—-they are that vital to us.

OCTA also worked with our Utah Crossroads Chapter in the last year to launch an incredible new website that focuses solely on the trail and the chapter’s work in Utah. The URL to the new site is www.utahcrossroads.org. Their colorful new website is loaded with stunning photography and features sections on Utah Trail Tours, a History of the Trails in Utah, Preservation, a section detailing all of the split-T rail markers that punctuate the trail throughout Utah, embedded video, and an incredible library of photographs. The chapter regularly updates their website and is being used by other chapters to model new websites.

We are now working with our Gateway Chapter in St. Joseph, Missouri to develop a new website that will be very similar to our Utah Crossroads Chapter website. The Gateway Chapter will feature at least two new sections not available on the Gateway Chapter, however. In January, OCTA was able to hire an intern who has spent the year embedded in the St. Joseph city planner’s office. One of the things she is creating is a highly interactive GIS map that will be featured on the new website when it launches. It will feature locations of sites relative to the overland emigrant jumping-off experience in St. Joseph, including locations of businesses, homes, ferries, burial places, and all manner of things related to the trail in St. Joseph.

Each point on the map is populated with a narrative about each site, a photograph of the site, information about the proprietor or person relative to the site, and information about whether the site still exists or not. It features well north of 100 points of interest already and will become a valuable tool for driving or walking tours of St. Joseph in the very near future. As a result of this study we were able to ascertain, for instance, that fully 25 percent of the proprietors who opened trail-related businesses in St. Joseph came from Germany. We already looking into potential partnerships with German-American groups on how to further enhance such knowledge.

A second new section on the Gateway site will feature a digitized library of trail diaries written by people who set out on the trail from St. Joseph. In a partnership with the St. Joseph Museum, we were able to completely digitize their collection of trail diaries this summer. We feel this new section will be an invaluable tool for researchers.

Finally, we continue to update our journals website at www.octa-journals.org. This website features over 400 original trail diaries (and growing) and our complete collection of Overland Journal and News From the Plains. We will soon be adding the complete collection of convention books and tour guides to the website, as they were also digitized over the summer. Before the creation of this website, only about 10 people per year accessed the collection at OCTA’s Merrill J. Mattes Library, housed inside the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri. Since we digitized the collection and made it more accessible, we had over 70,000 users of our collection in the past year alone. Any way you slice it, growth from 10 users to 70,000 is phenomenal. So phenomenal, in fact, that the Mattes Library has caught the eye of a national awards body. OCTA’s digitized Mattes Library was recently nominated for a national award by a rather prestigious body. However, we were asked not to share detailed information on this nomination yet, as the nominating body wants to coordinate press on the matter. Suffice it to say, we are very excited to be nominated and have our fingers crossed that we can report back in the next issue here that we won.