Wisconsin Company Provides Pro Bono GIS Services

By on January 20, 2016

A derived ground cover image. (Credit: Douglas Norgord / Geographic Techniques)

For small businesses or nonprofit organizations in need of quality mapping services, getting access to experienced professionals who do that sort of work can be expensive. But thanks to the efforts of one company, these little outfits can obtain the services they need for free.

The company, Geographic Techniques, was founded in 1992 with a commitment to providing pro-bono mapping services to nonprofits, small businesses, individuals and community organizations that lack the necessary resources. In achieving this work, mapping professionals at the company use different types of gear, but mostly rely on GPS receivers and geographic information systems (GIS) software.

Throughout the years, the work of providing free mapping services has yielded a lot of interesting applications for the tools and taken Geographic Techniques’ mappers to many different locales, including land conservancies, farm fields, old cemeteries or even ancient earthworks sites. In recent years, completing these applications has been made possible with a Geneq iSXBlue II GNSS GPS Receiver.

“The most important measure for this GPS receiver is sub-meter accuracy,” said Douglas Norgord, freelance cartographer with Geographic Techniques. “This is crucial for supplementing professional survey work, such as with the registration of Native American effigy mounds or establishing accurate control points for registering aerial imagery.”

Norgord has worked alongside Deborah Emerson in using the receiver in a number of projects. These have ranged from applications like mapping the trails and disc golf courses of a resort in Wisconsin to creating maps of farm plots for a community park in the state’s Dane County.

Mineral Point Old City Cemetery. (Credit: Gerald Glaeve)

In the first, Norgord says the GPS receiver was used while “hitting the snowshoe trails in the winter, walking the miles of hiking trails and locating tees and baskets along the disc golf courses during the warm months.” The result of those efforts was a detailed and multi-layered map of the resort grounds that customers and visitors can use. The map has also aided in planning controlled burns in nearby forests and grasslands.

The latter project involved using the GPS to create accurate ground control points for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations. After those were generated, aerial photographs were georeferenced using the control points and combined to create a high-resolution image of crop conditions. And then by referencing the photo color bands and matching them to land type and crop conditions, Norgord and others were able to chart things like soil erosion and land suitability.

Other pro-bono projects that Norgord notes include mapping burial sites at Old City Cemetery in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.

“Old City Cemetery is one of the state’s oldest cemeteries and has burials dating back to the 1830s. Unfortunately, years of weathering and neglect have damaged the original headstones to the extent that many of them have been broken, displaced or deteriorated beyond recognition,” said Norgord. “An effort is currently underway by volunteers to locate, identify, repair and move displaced headstones to their proper locations. GPS positioning will assist in the creation of online and hard-copy map products to help promote the cemetery’s history.”

Another project dealt with the preservation and appreciation of Native American burial mounds in the southern part of Wisconsin. Norgord says that an estimated 90 percent of such mounds around the country have been destroyed since Europeans arrived in North America.

“Using mapping-grade GPS, along with legacy surveying methods and LiDAR bare-earth terrain models, highly accurate maps depicting the sophisticated geometry of mounds, mound groups, and their astrological alignments, have helped to not only protect them, but promote future mound preservation,” said Norgord.

Following any project, Norgord says that GPS data are typically pushed into ArcMap software
(made by Esri) for processing and map creation. The software produces high-quality maps for presentation and display in print or online formats.

Top image: A derived ground cover image. (Credit: Douglas Norgord / Geographic Techniques)

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