Adirondack Atlas, a new collaborative effort to assemble a comprehensive digital map of the Adirondack Park, was introduced to the public last week at the Conference on the Adirondacks in Lake Placid.
In 2012, I got together with Steve Signell (then working on ARGIS) to discuss our mutual interests in the advances in web mapping services. Out of those discussions came a small project for the Adirondack Mountain Club’s new Northville-Placid Trail Chapter.
But the NPT Map was just an ancestral prototype of a much a bigger idea – a full Adirondack Atlas – a modern gazetteer that could bring together data about the Adirondack Park across and space and time. Our idea was to have a digital atlas that would not only show the current state of the Adirondack Park, but also the state of Adirondack Park at various times in the past – a living map, that evolves as changes in the Park occur.
An innovative map and data project of this sort faces two major problems we have set out to tackle.
1 – Completeness. While no map can ever be truly complete, mapping projects in the past have focused on limited collections of data. The Adirondack Atlas brings a wide variety of local data from the sciences to the humanities, from the roadside to the backcountry.
2 – Accuracy. Previous mapping projects have been limited by their ability to remain current. Maps made today, can be inaccurate after a big storm tomorrow. The Adirondack Atlas is updated once a week (at least) and we’ve built the capacity for public input. If a storm happens tomorrow and a bridge goes out – we can make that change to the map.
Some of the things we’ve already done are the first of their kind. For example, we’ve created the most complete map of the snowmobile trail system available. We’ve also created the most comprehensive map ever created for the region’s hiking and cross-country ski trails (we’re also working on mountain bike, horse trails, and more).
The snowmobile trail layer demonstrates the completeness the Atlas is capable of. It’s made of three (now corrected and updated) data sets that have never been brought together before: State Park’s Snowmobile Unit funded trails, DEC’s snowmobile trails on state land, and local snowmobile club trails. The result is the first reasonably accurate map of snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Park.
Steve and I spent the better part of two years bringing in data and developing an app to collect data in the field and add it to the Adirondack Atlas in real time. Starting with available data such as NYS and DEC roads and trails layers, data from places like the NYS Health Department (every licensed kitchen in the Adirondacks) and the NYS Liquor authority (every place selling beer or wine), plus data we collected in the field, we’ve created the most comprehensive database of locations in the Adirondack Park from summits to water access points. We’ve also built an extraordinary, light weight, base map for use in displaying the full range of data.
An early Atlas project undertaken with the Essex County Department of Health added comprehensive data on recreation and healthy living locations in Essex County – farm stands, playgrounds, town and county trail networks, and more. Although the Essex County Health Department’s map project – like so many in the Adirondacks – did not include funding to keep the map current, because it’s part of the larger Atlas project we’ve been adding data, and updating it regularly since.
The Atlas is built using three big sets of data: points, lines, and polygons.
- Points are specific locations such as dams, museums, or places that sell wine.
- Lines are things like roads, trails, or large utility corridors.
- Polygons are places like wilderness areas, towns, or watersheds.
There are also web map service layers that provide map images like historic maps (about a dozen), large forest blocks, or APA’s land classification layer. With the exception of points, all of these elements can be layered in different ways, with different opacities. Currently, our logged-in beta testers can create their own maps using multiple layers, arranged any way they like, and save them with a simple link (like the ones I’ve used in this piece, or this town level planning map).
One ongoing project with the Adirondack Foundation will allow that organization to track and analyze the impact of their giving. Combined with social sciences data, this project can provide insight into the Foundation’s impact on our region.
Another project, being undertaken with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), will provide mapping services linked to tourism promotion. ROOST produces the region’s best up-to-date data on the operation of tourism related businesses (descriptions, photos, hours, and more in Essex, Franklin, and Hamilton Counties), but has more limited data on the region’s recreational assets. Through a partnership with ROOST, we’ll be providing the recreation data they need and we’ll be updating our already extensive data on roadside locations (restaurants, outfitters, lodging, retail, and more) from their database in real time.
Partnerships like the ROOST project are just one way we’ll be keeping our data as up-to-date as possible, but we’ve got something else up our sleeve – crowd sourcing, currently in the testing phase. We’ve added a simple way for logged-in users (right now, just our beta testers) to comment on existing points. What’s more, by clicking on the comment bubble at the top, anyone can add the location of a new point (a new or missing business, or identify where a trail is impassable or rerouted, for example). One of our beta testers, Tony Goodwin, a fountain of knowledge about the Adirondack backcountry, has been sending us dozens of map corrections and additions. Already, a limited amount of quality controlled crowd-sourced updates are flowing regularly to the Atlas.
Partnerships and crowd-sourcing are two ways we’ll be keeping the Atlas up-to-date, and we’re already working to update DEC Forest Preserve Management Areas as UMPs are being updated, but we envision more – a living map.
Take a look at our open gates layer, and you’ll get the idea of where we’re headed. The Adirondack Atlas is updated with access road gate openings and closures by noon every Friday.
We’ve also started experimenting with an alerts layer. On that layer you’ll find important warnings like washed-out bridges, closed climbing routes, blowdown, etc. We can assign warnings to elevations and other large areas as well. For example, DEC’s current advisory about bear canisters is on the experimental alerts layer.
Take a minute to explore some of the map projects we’ve completed, take a test drive of the site, and let us know what you think in the comments below.