Finding the Footpaths: Creating Trail Maps for New York State Parks

Almost every state park facility in New York has a trail system. As such, it is important that each park have a trail map so visitors can find their way around. Several steps go into creating a trail map including: talking with the park manager, going into the field, and analyzing the data.

The best way to obtain data is by using a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) unit. Parks uses the Trimble GeoXT, which makes a digital map as it collects points, documenting the route travelled as well as any important features. This particular unit comes with a backpack-mounted antenna to increase satellite reception, which is important in heavily wooded areas.

trimbles
Trimble GPS units. The GeoXT, on the right, creates a map in real time. The GPS captures lines and points, takes pictures and is water resistant.

The first step is to talk with the park manager about what he or she wants. It may be that the park has no trail map, only a small portion needs to be updated, or the park is seeking approval on a proposed route. Before heading out, the surveyor uploads reference data to the GPS including park boundary, existing trails and any other useful data. Then, they go the park and start hiking.

maddy 1
Maddy Gold collecting data in Clarence Fahnestock State Park.

In the field, it is important to document every trail, even if it is not an official trail. This is important for rescue teams trying to locate an injured person within the park. Other notable features to collect include: scenic views, picnic areas, restrooms, parking lots, bridges, eroded areas, blaze color, and more.

When the surveyor is confident they have collected all relevant data, they take the data back to the computer and put it into a program called GPS Pathfinder. This program corrects for any inaccuracies in satellite reception by matching the points against current imagery.

mapping 1
GPS Pathfinder Office with data and Differential Correction Wizard. This software corrects for satellite discrepancies and produces the most accurate data possible.

The last step is to put the corrected data into GIS (Geographic Information Systems). This program allows the surveyor to produce a map using the features recorded on the GPS. With all the information about the park in hand, the surveyor sends a draft of the trail map to the park manager. When the park manager is satisfied, the map can be published for use by the public.

mapping 2
ArcGIS window showing the shape file for the state of New York.

Post by Maddy Gold, OPRHP SCA Intern.

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