Almost by definition, a park represents a new geography for most people who step foot on it, arriving from afar to experience a new landscape. Maps play a key role in orienting visitors to this destination, not only depicting the terrain but also providing the first tools for interpreting it. Beyond orientation, maps collect and share layers of historic and scientific information, playing a key role in forming a cohesive knowledge base for a certain place.
When Conservacion Patagonica began the Patagonia National Park project, we set off into uncharted territory: metaphorically in the scope of the initiative, and literally in the need to create comprehensive and functional maps of the landscape. Government survey maps provided an accurate rendering of the terrain, but little ability to attach data into the map. As self-proclaimed “map freaks,” many of us had done as much zooming around on Google Earth as the mediocre internet of rural Patagonia allowed. With numerous independent scientific researchers uncovering new information about the landscape, the project needed a shared and shareable system for recording place data.
So when Round River Conservation Studies, a partner NGO running a college student semester in field ecology at the park, and their GIS wiz Rick Tingey offer to develop a new mapping system, we jumped at their offer. As part of a scouting team from Round River, Rick visited the park last March and began gathering ideas and information for a system that would best fit the needs and technical capabilities of the team here. When he returned here in mid-January, he brought with him two invaluable gifts: a set of large-scale printed maps depicting the topography, vegetation types, and terrain of the park, and digital files that provide in-depth information and allow users to edit them.
As Rick collaborated with us to set up the new system, a key goal was to create a platform that encouraged and supported collaboration and information-sharing among the various people working on the ground in the park: our wildlife recovery team, independent scientists, the trailbuilding team, historians and archeologists, and others. We chose to use the GeoPdf file format from Terrago Technologies, as it provides non-technical computer users access to digital maps and information using the free and familiar Adobe Reader software. GeoPdf files in Adobe permit users to create their own custom spatially referenced data (map layers) in the form of point, line, or polygon features that can be added to the map using simple drawing tools within the pdf document. These geo-located data layers can then be attributed with descriptive information about those features.
For example, a point on the map might have associated information regarding the plant species that occur there, or the success of restoration activities, etc. These custom map layers are saved and can be exported for use by other interested parties. In this manner, the GeoPdf file provides a means for collaboration between partners, and for the general dissemination of spatial information in a way that until now was much more difficult to accomplish.
As an example of this mapping system’s utility: this summer, a hardy team of Round River students is conducting a grassland survey in the park. Over the course of the semester, they will identify and catalogue the composition of grass species at hundreds of sites, along a gradient from east to west across the Chacabuco Valley. These study site locations are recorded as waypoints in a GPS, easily added to the GeoPdf map for presentation to anyone interested. Their students can add photos, text, and other media directly to these map locations, starting to build a rich and detailed information base that any collaboration can view and edit.
Even for those of us not conducting research, the accessible and appealing format of the GeoPDFs provides an easy means for exploring the terrain of the park. You can strip the map down to simple outlines of water bodies and roads, or overlay LANDSAT data with data on shadows. As the park moves toward accommodating more visitors, these maps may serve as a basis for designing park displays and other interpretive information. And for now, they provide great inspiration to get out exploring the terrain they depict.