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Frye: New mapping system debuts

| Saturday, June 28, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

I don't know about you, but I'm a map guy.

Hiking trail maps, water trail maps, topographical maps, park maps, forest maps, I've got a thing for them all. They're great for planning adventures.

Looking for a place to park to access a woodlot? Maybe seeking a trail into new area? Or better yet, you want to figure out how to float or walk into a place with no trail, where the landscape might funnel that big whitetail to you?

Maps are great for all of those things.

The only trouble with printed maps, of course, is that they become dated. Boundary lines change, food plots grow into forest, woods get cut down. You take one out, put your boots on the ground and — after trying to orient yourself — realize all is not as it seems.

Now, though, you can go to any Pennsylvania Game Commission regional office and, using its computer mapping system, create your own up-to-the-minute map, one based on the most current GIS, or geographic information systems, data available anywhere.

When you've got what you want — in any one of several views, including satellite and topographical modes — you can print a 24-by-29-inch version on water-resistant paper meant to withstand the rigors of being carried into the field.

“You're not just limited to mapping game lands, either,” said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the commission's office in Bolivar. “You can do any of our properties, but you can also map out state forests, state parks, anything. You could even make a map of your neighborhood if you really wanted to.”

The mapping system — nominated for a Governor's Innovation Award — debuted in the northeast region on a pilot basis in 2012. It went live statewide just this past week.

It won't be a “revenue builder” for the agency, said Dan Jones, a commission GIS specialist and project leader of the mapping effort. The $3-per-map cost to the customer will just cover paper and ink expenses, he said.

But profit's not the intention.

Hunters have always wanted game lands maps, Jones said. The commission printed its first in the 1930s. Unlike those, though, the ones available through the new system will be virtually “live.” If you've got a map of a game land and the commission later adds 1,000 acres to it, you'll be able to go back to the computer and print out a new version showing the new boundaries, Jones said.

The system only figures to get better, too. Right now, the maps are a little bit “bare boned” in that they show primarily things like boundary lines, parking areas, roads, fields and the like, Jones said.

Discussions are underway to add more features. Sooner rather than later, hunters will be able to see on their maps things like the location of prescribed burns and timber harvests, for example.

“For a grouse hunter, you can look at a map and know where all of the timber sales have been in the last 10 to 15 years,” Jones said.

Expect demand for those to be big.

“We tried to listen to our customers and give them what they've been asking for,” Jones said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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