case study conservation

River stewardship and online cartography

Kinnickinnic River Land Trust logoNext Saturday, the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust will organize crews of volunteers to fan out along the river’s 22 miles and pick up trash as part of an annual event. It’s a good spring cleaning for the premiere trout stream in the St. Croix River watershed.

I just completed an update of their interactive map, to help with the effort. A couple years ago, I created a Google Map displaying all the public access points to the river. At the time, I mostly located those maps by cross-referencing an old PDF map with satellite imagery. But, since I created it, some of the points have been found to be inaccurate, and there have even been a few new ones created along the river, with new DNR parking lots for anglers (or trash picker-uppers).

Additionally, in order to best organize the effort, the Land Trust staff split the river into seven sections, with 3-5 access points per stretch, and they wanted to have the map easily reflect those sections. So, I got to work.

This time around, Land Trust Conservation Programs Manager Eric Forward sent me a document with precise GPS coordinates for all the access points, as well as names for each, and notes for some. I used Google’s Spreadsheet Mapper tool for the initial input. I thought it was going to help me to get to final product, but either what I wanted to do isn’t possible in the tool, or I wimped out before I figured it out.

After entering all the points and their names into the Google Docs spreadsheet, I viewed the dynamic Google Map created with the data. At this point, all was fine and dandy. In the left-hand “table of contents,” the access points were handily organized by folders matching the seven river sections. Updating data would be as simple as updating the spreadsheet.

But… it wasn’t perfect:

  1. All the access points had identical markers, rather than separate colors/numbers for the different river sections.
  2. The content that was displayed when you clicked on a marker was a mess, with multi-column layouts that I didn’t need. I needed the name and number of the access point and a little room for description; the Land Trust’s logo and a link to its website would also be nice.
  3. The Spreadsheet Mapper tool provides six templates and–this is where it might be possible but I didn’t figure it out–I couldn’t edit the templates to get the layout I needed or the place marker unique for each section. I also had seven sections of river and couldn’t create one more to accommodate all seven sections.
  4. It seemed difficult to divorce the map from the spreadsheet back-end, so simply modifying the map right in Google Maps was problematic.

So, under a bit of a time crunch, I decided to get a little more manual. I exported the map as a KML file, and then opened it up in Google Earth, where I could pretty much edit to my heart’s delight. Then I created seven unique numbered markers, pretty simple black circles with unique fill colors, and I assigned each of these markers to a section of river. Lastly, and this was perhaps the most tedious, I created a basic HTML template and customized it for each of the 27 access points to include the necessary information.

When it was all done, I re-uploaded it to Google Maps for easy online viewing by Land Trust staff and volunteers. And here is the finished product:
View Kinnickinnic River access points in a larger map

Click here if you can’t see the map.