Maptrails' State Explorer

Once in a while I am presented with a really great program to review—State Explorer from Maptrails, Inc. is certainly one of these programs. At first glance, it appears to simply be the digitized and downloaded data from the Bureau of Land Management. The maps are sold state by state for $50.00 each. The map includes all of the PLSS sections in the state presented on a background of what looks like a USGS quad map. The data is from BLM and most of it is more recent than the USGS quads, at least on the state that I examined. If these were the only features included, $50.00 might seem like a high price to pay, but there is more. Beneath the surface there is a digital terrain model, so those are not only are the horizontal coordinates shown for the cursor, but also the vertical coordinates.
Figure 1 shows my favorite hike in the mountains through Baylor Pass in Colorado. Note first that the Latitude, Longitude and elevation are shown for the position of the cursor. Note also that in the lower left corner there is a thumbnail map showing the window through which the user is observing the enlarged map. In the lower right corner there is a panel that shows the adjacent maps that can be selected; at the top is the tool bar. In the menu bar there is a heading called "GPS." This allows the user to upload or download GPS coordinates directly onto the map. Waypoints can be downloaded into the map so that the user can view them in the natural environment. If the GPS is lost or stolen, a hardcopy record of the GPS points or the GPS trail will be available. The user can also choose points of interest from the map and upload the coordinates into his or her GPS and then use the GPS to navigate to the point of interest. There are a lot of surveyors and scientists who need to make a permanent and/or hardcopy record of their findings. It seems that anyone with an inexpensive GPS receiver would benefit from this program. I, for example, can now download into my receiver a ready-made map and see all of the relationships, as well as have a much more interesting picture.

Useful Functions
Currently there are only two unit modes, Latitude and Longitude and UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). Notice also in the tool bar there is a pen with a squiggly line. This allows the user to draw a 3-D line, which is automatically profiled. Note that the highest and lowest elevations are shown as well as the distance of ascent and descent and the overall height differences. For planning new routes or recording new or old routes with GPS, this feature is perfect. The other useful feature for surveyors is that the sections are shown and numbered. That is a function that can be used every day.

Custom-made Maps
Figure 2 demonstrates the real value of this program; the user is able to customize the map. For a long time I have pleaded with the various map-making companies to make their maps customizable. If the user is a botanist, he or she could not only mark a trail to some very special plant, but also include a picture of the plant. Complete notes could also be attached to the locations, that means the user could see the picture of the plant by pointing the cursor to the area of the map where it is found. It is also possible to go directly to the area of the map where the plant is found by using the plant name in a query (FIND Evening Primrose). Video clips and text documents can be attached by creating a waypoint using map scaling or GPS. Another example would be of a biologist who works in Dripping Springs where there are plants that do not grow anywhere else in the world and are in need of protection. First, the location must be identified, then a picture can be attached. When the plants are followed up on throughout the year, the user can compare pictures with the confidence that they are taken in the same place and are indeed comparable. If they are threatened, the user can more easily find the cause (nearby trails, hikers off trails, predators, etc.). This program finally puts GIS in the hands of those who must keep records.
Many think that GIS is only for complex analyses, GIS management, etc. State Explorer is a GIS tool for data gatherers It is simple and straightforward and allows a surveyor, a scientist, an engineer, even a realtor to collect and use geographic information. My hope is that the big GIS programmers will write interface programs for Maptrails so that all of the data gatherers can input their data into the GIS programs. This should happen because there are many more gatherers of information than there are analyzers.
I personally will use this program as a management tool. I will have symbols for hot projects, unfinished projects, and completed projects and be able to load them up at the proposal stage and follow them through to completion. I can include more detailed location maps, plats, proposals, and correspondence, change order, and even field notes. This program has the potential to become a complete management tool for every surveying office.

Joe Bell is the owner of SCJ GPS/GIS Consultants in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and a Contributing Editor for the magazine.

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