Posts Tagged ‘navigation’

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 –

Staying Found on the North Country Trail

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Susan Herrick

Susan Herrick

Susan Herrick, an avid North Country Trail hiker and NCTA member nearly got lost on the NCNST. Susan did many things right, and we asked her to share her story.

Remember to educate yourself before going on the Trail, take a map and compass, let someone know where you are going, and always carry the 10 Essentials, every time you go on a hike, no matter how short.

by Susan Herrick

Geraldine Largay’s story, her loss and family’s heart ache shook me up. She got lost on the Appalachian Trail, and in her own words said “Got off trail to go to br. Now lost.” Her remains were only recently discovered, two years after her disappearance.

Two weeks before her story became news, I too went off the trail to “take a pee.” The path I took away from the trail seemed clear enough at the time, and maybe I didn’t go the recommended 200 feet distance. After taking care of business I headed back to the trail, and it didn’t take me long to see that I had made a wrong turn.

How I re-found myself on the North Country Trail

I stopped and took a moment to understand the predicament I was in. Yeah, I panicked a little bit and had to force myself to stay put. Later, when I was safely at home and in front of a computer I did some research about wayfinding.

Follow the S.T.O.P. Rule

girls at overlook on north country trail

The first rule in the event of getting lost is to stop where you are. Follow the S.T.O.P. Rule.

Easy to remember: Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.

This is a good rule and I got the first part right, STOP.

Then I thought. How much time before dark? It was near 7:00 p.m.

My second thought was about supplies; water, snack, jacket, cell phone, light, heat source, and map. Check.

Next I observed the area. There are woods all around, and was starting to look pretty much the same in every direction.

Panic again. It is very hard to manage while stressing out. I didn’t want to be lost, so how was I going to find my way? No way was I ready to use my phone a friend option.

Last fall I took a hike with a respected promoter and maintainer of the NCT. I was talking about my casual attitude toward hiking and was reminded that if I was going to hike in these woods I might want to up my game. So true.

PLAN. Yes I had a plan. At my new starting point I laid out a cross-hatch with sticks and marked the direction I walked with more sticks. I kept walking back to the crosshatch, and tried the other directions. This method soon got me to the trail in probably less than 10 minutes.

While my situation was nowhere near as dire as Geraldine Largay’s, it did make me think that this could happen to other people too, and probably has. I promised myself that next time I went off trail for any reason I would mark my steps with a bandana, or whatever else I had, so I won’t take a wrong turn.

Other markers at hand when marking your path off the trail might be sticks, head bands, dew rags, spare compression straps, bungee cords, facial tissue – fresh or used, umbrella, or even a bra. Remember to leave no trace; you’re going to pick the markers up on your way back to the trail.

Moss and water in Pennsylvania

photo by Cody Magill, Pennsylvania

Make notes on your map of things like the giant beech surrounded by pines, the tree gall that looks like a bear cub, or where the river stones lay along the trail. Mark whatever stands out as a sign post that you will recognize.

And be sure to look back periodically to remember things from both directions.

Learn & Gain Experience in Wayfinding


The presence of books, nature clubs, on-line sites and survivalists groups offer many options to learn more. There is no replacement for experience, however, so get out there and experience nature for yourself.

Take inventory of your health. Have spring allergies been a problem, sore knee got you limping? Be realistic about what how far you can hike and over what terrain. This spring I’ve had some bouts of vertigo and opted out of hiking alone days I’m not up to it. Instead I’ve chosen to join the group hikes that NCT offers.

Group hikes are a great way to make friends and meet potential hiking partners. Hiking alone is my delight and I won’t give it up entirely. Yes, even if it means that once in a while I will get turned around. Finding your own way is a chance to improve wayfaring skills and up your game.

Mark Jenkins wrote an inspiring article for The Guardian that is worth checking into for good ideas.

Lynn Darling’s book Out of the Woods: a memoir of Wayfinding is an inspiration to me.

Stay Found on the trail, and maybe go a little way in honoring Geraldine’s memory.

Thank you to all the trail maintainers, bless them all.