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.


How online communities can combat graffiti vandalism of natural wonders

Last night, I posted a photo of graffiti vandalism at Fairy Falls on the St. Croix River page on Facebook, with a brief “open letter” to the vandals:

What jerks do in the woods.
"Hey, jerks - Why would you want to deface a beautiful cliff like this? What kind of way is this to act? Fairy Falls is a beautiful place, your scribblings add nothing to it."

As I expected, the reaction from many of the 13,000 fans of the river was pretty severe, with the post accumulating 60+ comments within about 12 hours:

Angela Y: If you want to do graffiti, don’t do it to deface property and other things. Do light graffiti. No damage. No problem.

Becky P: I grew up mere feet from Fairy Falls. Never had these kinds of problems back then–which wasn’t too long ago. Maybe the occasional “Bob + Jane” scratched into a rock here and there.

Kristin K: What a shame…we love to go eat our lunches there in the summers…Stupid KIDS!

“How can we help??”

Also, not surprisingly, but still very affirming as to the power of online communities, the first reaction of several individuals was to bypass outrage and start thinking about solutions. Many folks wanted to help clean it up:

Angie H: that is a terrible sight to see….How do we fix it?

Paul R: How can we help??

Bridget B: though it may very well be our own kids doing it, lets pull our kids into the effort; that’s one way to help them appreciate the beauty of pristine, natural sites such as the Falls. Pull your kids’ friends into it as well!

By this morning, action had already started to occur. A fan of the page reported he had already gone out there this morning and picked up a garbage-bag full of trash:

Brandon Z: Yeah, I picked up one load of garbage, drove home to throw it away, and now I am out of gas so there isn’t much I can do about round 2.

Other interested folks were doing the legwork to organize a more formal effort, particularly in regards to finding out how to remove the spray paint. The National Park Service, which manages Fairy Falls as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, ought to at least be informed of any such activities:

Solvay P: I have contacted the National Parks Service – I’m awaiting a response from them about how this clean-up effort should proceed.

Want to get involved in the effort? Visit the discussion on Facebook.

Cave drawings?

An interesting aside to the graffiti discussion was the few people who actually defended the act. One individual broke out an argument I had heard before but had generally dismissed without really thinking about:

Jeff W: how are cherished cave drawings any different?

Although I think the differences are pretty obvious, thinking about it was actually kind of fun, and I came up with the following:

…most pictographs and the such were a) painted using native materials, not synthetic spray paint, b) generally small and in earth tones so they complemented where they were painted, but did not attempt to distract from the natural beauty, and c) were usually small and in inconspicuous locations so they weren’t visible from a hundred yards away.

Another individual put eloquently what I think are perhaps the more obvious distinctions:

Becky P: I’d start with the fact that these paintings tell us nothing about pre-literate cultures (avoiding a rather cruel joke here). I’d say that prehistoric man was not concerned with suburban delinquent turf wars. I’d say that a glut of space meant that natural resources were less important 1500 years ago. I’d say that the paints prehistoric humans used weren’t comprised of polluting chemicals.