Miles Of Mapping

To say that snowmobiling is a popular winter activity in upstate New York is an understatement. The area north of Interstate 90 is at equal or higher latitude compared with that of the Canadian province of Ontario. Western New York, in particular, is ideal for anyone who enjoys winter sports since it is sandwiched between the lake-effect snow factories of Lake Erie and LakeOntario.

It was the state’s estimated 11,000 miles of snowmobile trails–and the fact they need to be mapped and marked for navigation and safety–that inspired a trio of surveyors from western New York last year to form a trail-mapping service called Endless Trails (www.endlesstrailsusa.com). Even though the venture began as a way to combine surveying expertise with winter fun, they discovered that doing the job right has not been child’s play–it requires the type of advanced GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology that they use in their core businesses.

“Like everything else, this just kind of happened,” says Steve Hubertus of Stephen J. Hubertus Land Surveyors in Hornell, N.Y. In 2003, during a particularly rough winter, Hubertus and his friend Jim Ball of Wellsville-based James Ball Land Surveyors bought utility snowmobiles to help them get around for their surveying work. While using the new machines, they discovered that recreational snowmobiling would probably be fun, and Ball suggested that Hubertus join him and his son Jason in the activity. But there was no map of AlleganyCounty snowmobile trails. So Hubertus, Ball and another friend, Chuck Hathaway, who works for the New York State Department of Transportation, Region No. 6, set out to develop a county trail map with funding through the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s (OPRHP) Snowmobile Trail Grant Program. That marked the origin of Endless Trails, which consists of the three surveyors, Jason Ball and Christopher Barr, who also works for Hubertus’ firm.

In the tradition of renowned New York conservationist Teddy Roosevelt, the existence of the grant program and the politically active New York State Snowmobile Association (NYSSA) indicates how popular snowmobiling is there. The 12,000-member association–an umbrella organization of clubs throughout the state–handles information such as trail mapping, and also obtains funding for trail maintenance through the OPRHP, based largely upon information provided by the clubs. So the resources exist for classifying and properly mapping and marking trails in various areas, whether they are a section of the state trail corridor or a local trail that might traverse part of a landowner’s property.

One OPRHP initiative is to develop and map all snowmobile trails with GPS. Funding for trail maintenance is based on mileage, and mileage accuracy is increasingly important, making the use of GPS essentially mandatory. In 2005, the NYSSA launched a Trail GPS/GIS program to assist clubs in providing the NYSSA with trail information. The surveying trio does not need to be educated on the use of GPS for mapping trails–Hubertus has conducted seminars on the use of GPS at a local outdoor sporting goods store–but discovered that a need exists for precise surveying work using advanced equipment. Local economies and even the state’s tourism industry as a whole benefit from the availability of GIS-based snowmobile trail maps during the winter months.

“A lot of the maps are available through local snowmobile dealers and different points of interest where you might stop and get gas or food,” notes Hubertus. “We are basically creating a trail that you, as a snowmobiler not familiar with our area, can come to the area, find a map, utilize the map, go off, and ride. We also designate on our maps where there are food, lodging, gasoline, supplies and safety/aid stations. It’s very critical to us to make sure that the snowmobiler who’s unfamiliar with our trails is safe and can comfortably navigate the trails.”

A Laborious Process

The use of GIS is particularly useful for marking local trails that cross private property. Rather than ride across or set up a sign on a given homeowner’s property, it helps the trio to know who lives there so they can call ahead and explain what they are planning to do. A GIS program allows the trio to create an initial shape file that includes county tax assessment information, to which they can refer in the field to determine who lives at a particular location.

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