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Friends of the Gorge rolls out 3-D Google Earth trail, waterfall map

After two years painstaking development, Friends of the Columbia Gorge has rolled out an online 3-D trail map that gives users a birds-eye view to nearly 150 trails, trailheads, and waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.

The map, which became available on the nonprofit conservation group’s website last week, uses Google Earth’s 3-D satellite images to show prospective hikers exactly what kind of terrain they’ll encounter on their outings in the Gorge. Double click on an area of the map, say Eagle Creek, and swoop in like… an eagle… down into the forested canyon. A red squiggly line on the map clearly indicates where the trail is, which changes to a yellow line displaying the trail’s name when a mouse cursors is placed over it. Double clicking on the trail brings up an info box displaying a picture of a section of the trail, the trail number, name, length, name of trailhead, difficulty level, type, and elevation gain. Two links at the bottom of the info box direct users to the Portland Hikers’ and Friends’ websites for more information about the trail.

In addition to the 66 trails that are fully plotted on the 3-D Gorge trail map, icons for 35 trailheads and 46 waterfalls are also on the map, as well as listed alphabetically on the left side of map window. Clicking on any one of them zooms the user right to the feature’s exact location.

Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends, said the process used to build the map was a group effort and “a labor of love.”

“Hikers walked the trails with GPS units and hikers would give us the GPS data and we would look at the data and check it,” he explained. “Literally hundreds of people have helped on this.”

Ellen Dorsey, a Geographic Information Systems contractor who once interned for Friends when she was a Portland State University student, took the data and dumped it into a GIS program before putting it into Google Earth. Friends member Jeffrey Mills helped make the map “web-friendly,” according to Gorman, and Maegan Jossy, Friends’ outdoor programs coordinator, helped organize the hikers who went and gathered the GPS data. Portland Hikers, an online regional hiking website, partnered with Friends on the project.

He estimated it cost $5,000 to produce — a number he noted would have been four or five times higher if the map had been “professionally done.”

Gorman explained that the map includes only official trails that located on public or trust lands. Updates are also planned that will give real-time data on trail statuses.

“We’re going to try to update when there’s bridge closures and trail closures,” he said. “It won’t be static.”

The Google Earth trail map is only the first part of what Friends is planning though.

Gorman mentioned Friends is currently working to develop a free smartphone app version of the map. In addition to the features available on the Google Earth version, Gorman said he envisions the app will provide information on when salmon are running, when wildflowers are blooming, and where thirsty travelers can stop for a beer when they’re done with their hike or waterfall viewing.

“We’d really like to link the recreation component with the economic component,” he said.

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