TRAIL TECH: North Country Trail Association offering online maps

Online maps are available for the North Country Trail. Although paper maps still are essential, smart phones can come in handy on the trail as well. (Photo courtesy of the North Country Trail Association)

MARQUETTE — Following the blue blaze markers along the North Country Trail is a good way to stay on the trail, as is a good old-fashioned waterproof, tear-resistant paper map.

A little technology, though, can’t hurt.

Matthew Rowbotham, the North Country Trail Association’s Geographic Information System coordinator based in Traverse City, spoke about accessing and using the NCTA’s online trail map as well as mobile apps and more Tuesday in the Community Room of the Peter White Public Library.

The presentation took place during the general membership meeting of the North Country Trail Hikers Chapter of the NCTA.

The reason behind the NCTA’s online mapping efforts is to deliver trail users a unified mapping system and offer map content in as many modern popular platforms as possible — desktop computers, laptop computers, smart phones and the like.

There’s a lot of ground to cover.

The NCT is the longest trail in the National Trails System, stretching 4,600 miles seven states from the Vermont border of New York to the middle of North Dakota.

Rowbotham is involved in the technological aspect of the NCT.

“Essentially, it’s computer mapping,” Rowbotham said. “I have a degree in geography. Spent a lot of time looking at cool hiking trails on the computer.”

Obviously, many people want to experience the North Country Trail in person. However, there still is the desire to travel in the correct direction.

Consider Facebook.

“There’s all these great groups that are having these great conversations about the trail, and then someone will ask about a North Country Trail hike and someone will scan one of our maps and throw it up there and say, ‘Here you go,'” Rowbotham said.

The NCTA doesn’t want to discourage that.

“We’re not in the map business,” Rowbotham said. “We’re in the getting-people-to-enjoy-the-North Country Trail business.”

He acknowledged the NCT paper maps have been a staple since the early 2000s.

The NCTA, though, has been advancing in the digital world, along with the rest of society.

NCTA uses ArcGIS Online, a collaborative web GIS that allows people to use, create and share maps, scenes, apps, layers, analytics and data, according to the company website.

The AGOL platform allows the NCTA to deliver core data sets to the public with rapid updates.

A user can click on the “Launch the online map” button at northcountrytrail.org/trail/maps/ and get lots of helpful information.

The link leads to a map of the NCT. Tapping on a section of the trail line pulls up specific details of that section, like trail status, type and surface; mileage; bike and horse status; camping details; closures and closure dates; and the name of the property and who owns it or who is the managing authority, among other data.

In the upcoming months, though, the NCTA will release a series of free downloadable digital PDF maps. For the Upper Peninsula, the eastern, central and western portions will be included. The maps will be 8 inches by 11 inches and are printable, with the scale being 1 inch to half a mile, he said.

“You can stand on the trail and figure out which way you need to go,” Rowbotham said. “You can look at the landscape and read the elevation contours to see where you’re at. Even in North Dakota it works.”

He also noted that the PDF format provides the ability to include geospatial information on a mobile device, which means a hiker can download a map from the NCTA website onto a smart phone, and the hiker’s location will be shown on that map

Another benefit is that maps can be downloaded onto phones with no cellular reception needed, he said.

That can come in handy when a hiker travels in an out-of-the-way spot — like on the rugged and sometimes remote North Country Trail.

Rowbotham said plans also include adding photographs to trail points online.

Reaction from the audience at the Tuesday presentation on NCTA technological advances was favorable.

“As long as it’s user-friendly, I don’t have a problem with it,” said chapter member Eric Rehorst.

People might not travel the entire NCT in their lifetimes regardless of the navigational aides they use, but local hikers can see plenty of sights along the way.

The section overseen by the North Country Trail Hikers Chapter begins on the east at Rock River Road in western Alger County .6 mile south of the Rock River Bridge, travels across Marquette County and ends at the Long Lake Outlet 1.1 miles west of Craig Lake State Park in eastern Baraga County, for a total distance of 120 miles.

It runs through the city of Marquette, an NCTA-designated Trail Town, and allows hikers to use a spur trail to access unique spots like Lakenenland Sculpture Park in Chocolay Township and Hogback Mountain in Marquette Township.

The North Country Trail Hikers Chapter has divided its section into 29 segments, most of which can be accessed on both ends via vehicles, albeit high clearance ones.

Possible hikes are as unique as the hikers themselves, but a few local segments are highlighted on the NCTH’s website at northcountrytrail.org.

They include:

– An relatively easy and populated segment from the Michigan Department of Transportation Welcome Center in Chocolay Township along Lake Superior to Hawley Street in the city of Marquette.

– Wetmore Landing to Little Presque Isle Point in Marquette Township, which consists of 1.6 miles of Lake Superior shoreline along the beach and on cliffs overlooking the lake.

– A segment leading from Rumely Road to Peter White Road in Alger County, with a spur to Laughing Whitefish Falls. Hikers along the spur can come across two unnamed waterfalls.

North Country Trail Hikers Chapter President Lorana Jinkerson also gave an update on the Hike 100 Challenge in which participants hike 100 miles on the NCT during this calendar year, in aggregate or all at once, and receive a special patch and certificate.

“Because the last two years of our Hike 100 have been so successful, we are doing Hike 100 again, only this year it’s Hike 50 and Hike 100,” Jinkerson said. “For people who don’t want to tackle the whole 100, they can do the 50.”

She said Hike 50 commemorates the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Trail System.

To take a tutorial on the NCTA mapping system, visit northcountrytrail.org/tag/tutorial.

The next general membership meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 1 in the Community Room of the PWPL.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.