Thursday, October 10, 2013

An Adirondack Recreational Web Portal In The Works

adkGoogleMapsScreenShotI have to confess, I love Google Maps, and not just because I’m a map guy.  Google Maps is my “go-to” when exploring unfamiliar territory. There’s a reason why Google Maps is the most popular smartphone app.  Forget browser searches—it is far more efficient to just type in what you’re looking for into Google Maps, and presto- you have a nice interactive map showing the nearest examples complete with links and (mostly) accurate directions, not only for driving, but also bicycling, public transit and even walking.

However, you may have noticed that the usefulness of Google Maps declines as you get into the Adirondack Park. 

Ask Google to give you walking directions from Newcomb to Lake Placid and you’d never know you could hike there via the High Peaks Wilderness.  Looking for help from Google maps to find good restaurants in Long Lake?  You’ll never discover Flavor’s chocolate croissants or the amazing paninis at the Adirondack Trading Post.   Wouldn’t it be nice to have an online map that had these things, but also:

  • Recreational facilities (snowmobile trails, lean-tos, rock climbing sites, handicap accessible facilities, etc.)
  • Directions for walking, biking, horse-riding or snowmobiling the thousands of miles of Adirondack trails.
  • Trail conditions— how about being able to view a map version of John Warren’s weekly Adirondack Backcountry Report on your smartphone?
  • Events & activities- zoom to your area of interest and find out what’s happening this weekend, regardless of which town or county its in.
  • Other points of interest (historical, cultural, etc.)

It is no surprise that a behemoth like Google wouldn’t know about the hidden secrets of the Adirondacks.  One could just sit back and hope for Google to eventually discover these gems, or one could help the process along.  Recently I was part of the committee tasked with formulating an Adirondack Park Outdoor Recreation Strategy.   There were a lot of different viewpoints represented, but everyone at the table agreed upon the need for Adirondack-specific web portal that would incorporate local knowledge into a site similar to the one I describe above.  This site would feature a strong mapping component, rather than the menu/catalog driven approach used by most Adirondack recreation sites such as this and this.  The information and interactive maps on this ‘Adirondack Recreational Web Portal’ would be freely available not only to the public, but also to local governments and businesses who do not have the resources to maintain databases and web maps of their own.  Specifically, we recommended the development of a

“comprehensive recreational asset inventory and web portal which promotes all recreation assets and events across the Park. Allow regional tourism, local communities and economic development websites to access the inventory and provide a real-time and accurate accounting of the recreational amenities within their districts.”

Now this is a tall order, but you have to dream big, right?  And our committee did more than just talk (!)– we helped the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages secure $100,000+  in funding from Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Grants to develop just such a site.  Development is underway, and the site is due to be launched by the beginning of next year.  This is an exciting development, and I will keep readers posted on the progress, but for now I’d like to highlight the fact that there are some existing websites that attempt to incorporate some of the ideas discussed above.  My focus here won’t be on state-wide efforts like the DEC’s State Land Interactive Mapper, or specific sites like this one, but Adirondack-oriented efforts that are broader in scope.   (I’m sure I’ve missed some—please share links in the comments!)

The Adirondack Regional Geographic Information System (ARGIS)

I helped develop this site while I was working for SUNY-ESF as part of the DEC-funded “Adirondack Park Regional Geographic Information Systems (APR-GIS) Consortium”.   Launched in 2009, the ARGIS portal was designed mostly for land managers, scientists, students and others who needed to not only view mapped data, but also download it for analysis (click the “Download Center” tab above the map).  The ARGIS site shows trails, lean-tos and some other recreational data, but also historic maps, maps of invasive species, stream flow, fish inventories, and lake chemistry among others.  Unfortunately, the APR-GIS project is on hiatus, so the data is not being updated regularly.  ARGIS is also not mobile-friendly and the technology is antiquated and a bit unstable– I still have to restart the server occasionally when it gets overwhelmed.

New York State Summer Recreation Map and Trip Planner

Created by Mowhawk Valley GIS, this site is not exactly Adirondack-specific, but is zoomed to the park extent by default, and most of the layers only show information for the Adirondacks.  This site has a nice interface, using more modern technology than ARGIS.  As of this writing, many of the layers only have information for portions of the park, namely along the Old Forge-Long Lake corridor.

The “Adirondacks App

I was excited when I first heard of this app from the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (ARTC) and downloaded it to my smartphone.  However, the app does not utilize your current location, and the mapping functionality was very disappointing.  The app divides the Adirondacks into “eight distinct regions, each with its own striking landscape, each with its own striking landscape and unique personality.”   Funny thing—when you look at the boundaries of these ‘distinct regions’, they happen to align exactly with county lines!  “Adirondack Wild Region”= Hamilton County.  “Lake Placid Region”= Essex County.   I seriously doubt that most visitors to the park care what county they are in.  If you are planning a visit to any village that’s not in the geographic center of a county, the ‘Adirondacks App” forces you to jump around between two or more of these ‘regional’ pages and literally dozens of tabs to find nearby hiking trails, hotels or events.  Google Maps works so well precisely because it does NOT make arbitrary divisions such as these, but focuses instead on what the user wants to know: a) where am I?, and b) is there anything of interest nearby?  If ARTC took the all information on the ‘Adirondack App’ and turned it into a single, location-driven interactive map, it might be pretty cool!

Interestingly, ARTC is heading up the Recreational Web Portal project for AATV.  I’m curious to see what they come up with… stay tuned.

 

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Steve Signell

Steve Signell is the owner of Frontier Spatial, L.L.C., an Adirondack-based company offering mapping and data services. He splits his time between Schenectady and Long Lake, where he punctuates his time at the computer with stints on the fiddle and banjo.




10 Responses

  1. Tim Baker says:

    For paper and relief maps, you can go to Meskers website at http://www.metskers.com. They have an interesting assortment of NY state maps and Adirondack Park maps.

  2. James Fox Jim Fox says:

    I’m driving west on Route 28 and the Hudson is behind me. The road straightens out and a flat-topped mountain pops into view. What is it? We’ve hiked to a beautiful vista on an outcrop overlooking Stillwater Reservoir. Can we see Mt. Marcy?

    The Bushwhacking Fool, Dan Crane, (who I found from an Adirondack Almanck hiking article he wrote), helped me find a great website that would be a great addition to an Adirondack web portal.

    http://www.peakfinder.org is user-friendly from home, and can also be downloaded onto a handheld device that doesn’t need wi-fi. It displays a silhouette of the horizon seen from your location/elevation, and identifies the mountains.

    [The flat top is Blue Mt. and yes, you can see the highest mountain in NYS from Stillwater Reservoir.]

    • Paul says:

      This app looks pretty cool. So is it the Peak Finder East that you need for around here?

    • Avon says:

      PeakFinder is annoying me to pieces! I tried for an easy one – views from Mt. Marcy. It labels Saddleback but not Basin or Gothics, Camel’s Hump but not Mansfield, Blue Mt. but not Gore, Blake’s Peak but not Nippletop or Hough, Emmons and Seward but not MacNaughton or Iroquois. I just don’t get it.
      It does label a lot of obscure and distant mountains (in that view alone, 3 different Panthers), but not what you’d most want to find … there’s Moosilauke in NH but not any of the Presidentials, nor Mont Royal in Quebec.

      Google often labels obscure stuff and not major towns or other features, depending on whether there’s room for the name in their jumble. No sense of priority because it’s a computer. I suspect this site suffers from the same.

      • Jim, Avon,
        That is a cool looking app, but Avon you are right that even the coolest visuals can’t cover up incorrect, incomplete or just plain weird data. You’d be surprised how may of these different apps use the same data Google does. As Jim McAndrew mentions below, one nice thing about OpenStreetMap vs. Google is that there is some possibility for peons like us to correct errors and add new features. I tried for quite a while to get Google to add the DEC’s Adirondack trail layer (not perfect, but better than nothing) to their maps & walking directions, but I was unable to penetrate their bubble.

  3. Jim McAndrew says:

    Steve,
    There are a large number of customized maps serving special interests that have been built on the collaborative and publicly editable base map provided by openstreetmap.org. The customized versions can have an additional user developed subset of symbols and features. An example, serving boaters and marine navigation, may be seen at http://map.openseamap.org/map/map_edit.php?lang=en (the example depicts custom navigation buoy symbols in the Narrows of Lake George). Perhaps a similar openstreetmap customization could provide the additional functionality you’d like to see in an Adirondack Recreational map. One of the great advantages of a collaborative map such as this is that users may make updates additions and corrections.

    • Steve Signell Steve says:

      Jim,
      I agree wholeheartedly– OpenStreetMap is an incredible resource and potentially could help the cause. I use their tiles for some of my webmaps. I had no idea about the nautical stuff. Very cool. I logged in a couple years ago to try to add the missing management units (Five Ponds, Sargent Ponds, Whitney among others) in the western part of the park:

      http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=10/43.8529/-74.7304

      but adding polygons was quite laborious at the time. I will check it out again– thanks for the reminder!

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