Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Adirondack Atlas: A Collaborative Digital Map

Adirondack Atlas Digital MapAdirondack 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.

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.

Lake George Land Conservancy (we’re also working on embedded maps for their webpages).

The Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb

The North Creek Ski Bowl Trails

Boreal Wetlands Monitoring

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

19 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    John, This is very cool.

    It’s funny the map has the road to Long Pond (the one in the town of Waverly Franklin County) but the pond isn’t on the map? I think there is another small pond next to it that is also missing.

  2. Geogymn says:

    Nice work!

  3. Big Burly says:

    John, in a word WOW.

    Visionary and useful. A question that has nagged me with every app that has live updates … will it be possible to do legacy searches for specific given points in time?

    Congrats to you and your team.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      We have quite a way to go before we get to the point of being able to see the Adirondacks at a specific moment in time, but yes, theoretically, this should be possible.


  4. Bill says:

    Very cool and I commend your efforts. A correction would be at 7th lake trailhead fulton chain in Inlet.It is foot access only on the back side of 7th lake. That road is a private road maintained by its residences. I live at the very end which you have as “trailhead” . That creates a problem for me and my rental guests parking. I have and will help hikers, but anybody who tries to park a vehicle here will have it towed. Hate to be a hard ass, but I have to protect my renters rights. This is all private land and NO rights for personal vehicles to use the road. When users get misinformed the police are often called. I pay almost a thousand dollars a year to have the road grated, stoned and plowed. Lets not make it $1500.

    • Steve Signell says:

      Hi Bill,
      We surely want to correct this… do you think you could go on the Atlas page and use the comment button (upper-right, above map) to add a point and showing where the trailhead is supposed to be? Thanks

  5. Al Pouch says:

    Can’t seem to view the map in Safari on a Mac. Maybe it is shut down for repairs?

  6. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    I’ve used the Atlas for a variety of things over the past few months. It’s very well done and can provide a wealth of information in a way different than before. Kudos. Nicely done.

  7. Dave Gibson says:

    Great utility and attractive, too. Great job, John and Steve, a tremendous advancement in mapped info.

  8. Taras says:

    I applaud your efforts to create a comprehensive, multi-dimensional map of the Adirondack Park. I have been using the alpha version for many months and I have a suggestion for your consideration.

    Last spring, I realized there is no accurate online map of the High Peaks area, specifically for hiking purposes. The DEC’s own State Land Interactive Mapper (SLIM) displays DEC data which is, surprisingly, out of date. All maps that rely on the DEC’s data, such as ADKTrailMap and AdirondackAtlas, show the DEC’s incomplete and inaccurate High Peaks trail information.

    What do I mean by inaccurate?

    – Trails that are drawn in the wrong place, are over-simplified, have missing portions, or aren’t shown on the map.

    – Lean-tos that no longer exist or are shown in the wrong location.

    – Missing designated campsites.

    – Missing bridges.

    – Use place names that don’t match the actual signage.

    Being an active High Peaks hiker, I decided to do some “work” during my hikes and, starting last spring, I began collecting data. I entered all the information into OpenStreetMap (OSM) because it is the Wikipedia of mapping. It also serves as the source of information for numerous other maps.

    I created a free OSM account, learned how to edit a map, and entered data gleaned from my GPS tracks and surveys, other people’s tracks, the USGS, the NYS GIS, and other sources. I feel it now includes better than 95% of all High Peaks hiking resources.

    What do I mean by hiking resources?

    – Trails, including their markers colors, difficulty rating, and access rights.

    – Lean-tos, including their spur trails.

    – Designated campsites, including their spur trails.

    – Privies, including their spur trails.

    – Viewpoints.

    – Guideposts.

    – Bridges.

    – Fords (where no bridge exists and the hiker may need to wade through the brook).

    – NYSDEC Ranger Interior Stations and other notable buildings.

    – Memorials.

    – Stones (significant glacial erratics that serve as navigational markers).

    Here’s the Lake Colden area in OSM:

    Here’s the same area in other maps that derive their information from OSM:
    GAIA GPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/map/?lat=44.1191&lon=-73.9819&zoom=16&layer=GaiaTopoRasterFeet


    Waymarked Trails:

    Thunder Forest Outdoors:

    OSM also serves as the basis for vector-based maps suitable for offline use on Garmin GPS devices and smartphone apps.

    May I suggest that, specifically for the High Peaks region, you consider adopting OSM’s trail data because it is far more accurate, and comprehensive, than the DEC’s own data. I can’t vouch for OSM’s accuracy *outside* the High Peaks region; I have reason to believe it is much poorer than the DEC’s data. I don’t know if you can cherry-pick OSM’s data in this manner and fold into other DEC-sourced data but, if you can, it will produce a better product.

    Unconvinced? Here’s what the trails look like in Wolf Jaw Notch. There are four junctions.

    Compare that to the DEC’s data shown in AdirondackAtlas which has only two junctions. Sorry I don’t have an account with AdirondackAtlas (yet) so I can’t post a link to the map.

    Good luck with your endeavor! It’s a valuable asset to all.

    • Steve Signell says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and efforts to improve the data!
      OSM is an excellent resource– we haven’t used it much in our data because it’s accuracy is so spotty from place to place, and also because we have no control over the data once it’s updated– for example, someone else could go in and undo some of the things you’ve corrected. HOWEVER, if we know that a specific region or area has been corrected (as you describe) we can use OSMto improve our data. We will take a hard look at what you’ve done and undoubtedly bring a bunch of it into our map. Thanks so much for the tip!

      • Neil Luckhurst Neil Luckhurst says:

        I have hiked extensively with Taras and can attest to his passion for mapping and, foremost, to his painstaking thoroughness and attention to detail.

        Just as an example, on a hike with my spouse I explored the camping area just below the Phelps Mtn. junction. I was surprised at how extensive the campsite was with its multiple tiers and privy. Later, when I looked at Taras’ OSM data the site was represented with total precision. Amazing job!

  9. Bruce says:

    Help jog my memory, going back to the 80’s. I did a week-long canoe and fishing trip starting at Hoel Pond and going to Long Pond. It seems to me the parking area on the South side of Hoel pond was more towards the center of that side than at the point it is currently shown at the SE corner. Has it always been there?

  10. Joe Hansen says:

    Fantastic resource which will only get better,thank you!

  11. Tom Kacius says:


    Looking for a PDF of an Andironadack Current map. Any ideas?

    I’m a 20+ former newspaper guy,


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