Posts Tagged ‘maps’

NCTA’s Mapping Resources – Summer 2017 Update

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by Matt Rowbotham, NCTA’s GIS Coordinator

The NCTA is moving forward in a number of exciting mapping areas. The impetus behind our current efforts is the opportunity to deliver trail users a unified mapping system. Going beyond paper maps, our current system facilitates direct access to the trail data used to create the official North Country Trail maps.

Although traditional paper maps are still the most reliable and fundamental tool for backcountry navigation, the NCTA’s goal is to make our map content available in as many of today’s most popular platforms as is possible. Including desktop/laptop computers, tablets, smartphone, GPS receivers and of course traditional paper maps.

Core Datasets

The NCTA maps are built around three core sets of data.
These are the:

  • NCT centerline
  • NCT point data
  • New mileage index

The first step with this system was getting the NCTA’s data out from behind the organization’s internal network. This came about through our hugely popular ArcGIS Online (AGOL) mapping system. Available at home, on the road or in the field. The AGOL platform allows us to deliver our core data sets to the public with rapid updates.

As we’ve continued to improve this system, there are a number of new features we’ve recently rolled out.

New features in the NCT point data layer

Google Driving Directions

A significant new feature we’ve built into the NCT point data layer is a direct link that will launch Google Maps driving directions directly from any of the points (Parking, Camping, etc) in our system.

Users are now able to click on any point feature along the trail and by clicking the “Google Maps Directions” link Google Maps will launch on your device with point you’ve selected automatically set as the destination.

This is especially useful on mobile devices, simply enter your starting location select your route jump in your car and let your mobile device guide your way. As a somewhat new resident of northern Michigan, this has become my go-to strategy for exploring new parts of the NCT. I personally use it weekly!

We’re now adding photos to many of these point features. Over the coming years we anticipate having a nearly complete photo inventory of the facilities along the trail. Beyond just being interesting to look at, having a photo of things like parking area will be really informative with things like how many cars can fit, remoteness, etc.

Mileage Index

The most consistent complaint we’ve heard about our online mapping system has been how difficult measuring distances along the trail can be.

The “half-mile” waypoints we’ve been adding to our new hiking map series are serving as a great work-around, creating a mileage index we can load on the online map.

This can be used to easily estimate distances along the route of the trail. Currently, we have a mileage index available and online for North Dakota and Michigan…with the rest of the trail in the works.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when using these points:

  1. The points don’t appear on the online map until you zoom into a detailed scale.
  2. The mileage labels currently don’t work on the Explorer for ArcGIS app many of you may be using on your tablets or mobile devices, although the labels work fine on the web version. When using the app, you’ll need to click on the point to see the mileage.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly these mileage markers are not set in stone and they will change regularly and in some cases significantly. It’s important to always check the online map for the latest updates. Stay tuned it’s going to continue to get better from here.

Want to learn more?

Please join us this Wednesday, June 28th at 7:30PM EDT on our Facebook Page for a live question and answer session focused on the NCTA’s mapping resources and how you can best use them:

We are currently running the NCT2GO Digital Map Campaign to fund these great advances we are making to our map program.

Your gift will really make a difference –

New Open Data Portal Tutorial

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GPS units are a great tool for helping us navigate the North Country Trail. Did you know that a lot of GPS units allow you to load additional geographic data onto them, for example, our trail line? The NCTA maintains an extensive set of trail information which is updated regularly. We now have a great tool that allows you to take our mapping information and put it on your GPS unit to help you to navigate on your next hike!

The video tutorial below explains how to use the Open Data Portal Tool to filter and download a section of trail data with a step-by-step guide to convert the data into a format your GPS receiver can use. We think you’ll find this new tool quite helpful!

Open Data Portal Tutorial from North Country Trail on Vimeo.

For a direct link to the Open Data Portal visit

Within the video we mention using the free Minnesota DNR GPS app which you can find here.

For written-out step-by-step directions download this PDF here:

North Country Trail GIS Wins Award

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We are pleased to announce that IMAGIN (Improving Michigan’s Access to Geographic information Networks) has awarded the North Country Trail Association their Innovation in GIS (Geographic Information System) Award for 2015!

IMAGIN_AwardThe criteria for this award is:

The GIS Innovation Award is presented to an organization that finds innovative ways to use geospatial solutions to enhance workflow processes.  Candidates for this award should have successfully implemented a geospatial technology, service, or application that is new and innovative to their organization.  Applicants will be judged on collaborative efforts, contribution to the workflow, and original ideas.

The award was the result of the way we’ve implemented ArcGIS Online, as well as integrating Geospatial PDFs as supporting downloads for many of our maps. Special recognition goes to Matt Rowbotham, our GIS coordinator, who has kept the North Country Trail Association on the cutting edge of new mapping technology.

North Country Trail Association wins GIS award

Matt Rowbotham accepting the Innovation in GIS Award from IMAGIN

In recent months, we’ve launched new efforts for how we share our trail information. We’ve enriched our maps with things like the “half-mile” waypoints and have provided digital versions of maps that become geo-spatially aware on smart phones and tablets.  Additionally, ArcGIS Online has allowed us to provide users direct access to our trail data, seamlessly across desktop and mobile platforms. All of these tools enhance and improve the experiences of our hikers and volunteers.

You can always view all of our map and trail data on our Maps and Trail Data page. We also created a new video tutorial explaining how to use ArcGIS to plan your adventures on the North Country Trail. For examples of our geospatial PDF maps, you can download trail maps for Lowell, MI; the Fife Lake, MI Loop; and the Laurentian Lakes Chapter (in MN) Map. Our printed maps are also available in our Trail Shop.


Thank you for your support for the North Country Trail Association. These new tools wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of our donors!


An Intro to Using the Interactive Mapping Tool – ArcGIS Online

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A tutorial for using the interactive online mapping tool ArcGIS

With 4,600 miles to explore, the North Country Trail has something for everyone.

Love waterfalls? We’ve got those. Pine forests? Plenty. Rivers and lakes? Definitely. Gradual elevations and sweeping views? Absolutely. The North Country Trail wanders through a diverse geographical offering. You could almost say every mile offers a new experience.

The questions we get often are – Where should I begin? How do I find the trail?

We’ve developed this ArcGIS Online video tutorial to help you find your adventure. This online interactive mapping tool is an incredible resource when researching your hike and planning your trip. It will help you discover new areas of the trail, and give a great overview for route planning. Combine this tool with our books, printed maps, and your GPS for planning and navigating your trip. Remember to plan ahead and prepare, bring the proper navigational tools (map and compass) and that trail conditional and the consistency of blazed and signage vary from location to location.

A tutorial for using the interactive online mapping tool (ArcGIS Online) to plan your hike on the North Country Trail:

Try ArcGIs for yourself here.

Introduction to NCTA’s Online Mapping Tool – ArcGIS Online from North Country Trail on Vimeo.

In the future, we will be developing even more tutorials to help you navigate the trail using our online resources. Let us know in the comments what you’d like us to cover!