Can You Hear Me Now? Smartphone Maps (That Work) Off The Beaten Path

By Cary Chadwick

It’s summer. Family vacation time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for this all year. We had planned to take the family west for two weeks in the mountains. Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Off the beaten path. Round up the kids, pack up the camping gear (and also…arrange flights, rent an RV, organize logistics, do we have the bug spray?), and let’s go!

The truth is, in the weeks leading up to the trip, work kept me BUSY (see here) and I slacked when it came to researching the fine details of the trip.  I didn’t worry too much, we had made our critical Yellowstone campground reservations months before. We had a place to stay. We could figure the details out when we got there. But as it turns out, I (like many others) had forgotten one minor detail. These rugged places, some of the most beautiful land our country has to offer, is lacking only one thing…cell phone service. What sounds like a bonus feature of being in the mountains (and it was), also made my on-the-fly planning a little more challenging.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but one thing became pretty clear to me on this trip – we live in a world that relies heavily on the tiny computers we carry around in our pocket. Smartphone devices give us driving directions from point A to point B.  They help us find our way to that secret hot spring, stunning vista, or backcountry waterfall. But, many of these maps and apps rely on the technology of the front country – cell service, to calculate driving directions or ask Siri where the closest ranger station is.

maplets on smartphone
The Maplets app in action in Grand Teton National Park.

So, what’s an ill prepared camper to do? Enter Maplets. Maplets is an offline mapping app that allows users to download georeferenced maps (or georeferenced your own maps!) to a smartphone device and use them, along with the GPS in the device, to find your way around the world – even in the middle of nowhere. Once a user adds a map, it is made available to all Maplets users. There are 1000’s of georeferenced maps available in the app. So when I overheard someone mention that the National Park Service (NPS) Visitors Center had free wifi, I knew what to do. I scurried over, connected to wifi, downloaded the Maplets app on my iPhone ($2.99 – worth every penny) and did a search for user added maps. Several maps of Tetons and Yellowstone popped up, including the official NPS park map. A quick download to my device and suddenly, I was no longer lost in the woods. That familiar blue “current position” marker was placed perfectly on the park service map, indicating my location at the Visitor Center. For the next two weeks, we used Maplets to find our way through the parks and wild places of the west. Highlights of the trip included hikes to glacial lakes in the Tetons, a visit to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, and sleeps in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. So, Maplets FTW (for the win). Be sure to check it out for your next visit to the backcountry! You’re guaranteed to be tagged as the “geo-geek” of the family (an honor, IMO (in my opinion)), but you might just save the day when you’re all looking for that hidden trailhead.

Farming with Technology

Extension manure spreaderUConn Extension has taken delivery of a new manure spreader.  This spreader is not your typical manure spreader.  This spreader has gone hi tech with integrated scales, computer and GPS.  Unlike a typical spreader which requires the farmer to guess how much manure is being loaded, and keep handwritten records of how many loads went to which fields, this spreader will do all of the recordkeeping for the farmer,  on its own.   The integral load cells provide the weight.  The computer records the amount.  When the PTO shaft starts to turn the computer records the GPS position to begin documenting where on the face of the globe the manure is being applied.  As successive GPS positions get are recorded and the weight starts decreasing the computer calculates the application rate in tons/acre on the fly.  Using this technology a farm will be able to print a map of the data showing exactly how much manure went on every field.


Extension Educator Richard Meinert purchased the spreader using a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA NRCS.  The grant supported the purchase of the spreader to allow farmers to use the spreader on their own farms.  The purpose of the grant research is to document the effectiveness of the spreader and the electronics.  Once the effect of the spreader is determined an economic analysis will be conducted using data from the farm applications to calculate the payback period of the technology.  Eventually all farms with more than a few livestock will need to purchase a manure spreader.  The question to be answered is will the increase efficiency save enough in fertilizer, or increased crop yield, or decreased recordkeeping time to pay for the extra $6,000 needed to add the scales, computer and GPS to a standard spreader?


Anyone interested in using the spreader to try it out as part of the grant project is asked to contact Richard Meinert by phone at 860-626-6240 or by email at

4-H Saturday Science

Youth at the 4-H Saturday Science program.

Denise Coffey of the Reminder News covered the first 4-H Saturday Science Program at Windham County Extension:

“The Windham County Extension Center in Brooklyn hosted the first 4-H Science Saturday on Nov. 16. Program Coordinator Marc Cournoyer led a group of youngsters through “Maps and Apps,” an exercise in map-reading and map-making. With nods to technology and Rand McNally, the kids were given a chance to design their own maps.

The program is part of a larger effort on the part of national 4-H to boost the scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical skills and interests of youngsters. “Maps and Apps” was the national 4-H science experiment held for 4-Hers across the country. The experiment on Saturday required participants to use geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), grid paper and their own creativity in coming up with a map they could call their own.”

Read more…

Smartphones and GPS

by David Dickson
GPS-for-Land-Trusts_42013_301-624x377Smartphones are the swiss army knife of the digital world. They have replaced countless single-function gadgets from calculators to cameras to pagers to, um, phones! But for mapping geeks, one of the gadgets they have not quite been able to shake is the handheld GPS unit—at least until now.
The Geospatial Training Program (GTP) at UConn CLEAR, in collaboration with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, recently developed a GPS training for land trust volunteers. The one-day training teaches participants to collect data (waypoints, notes, tracks) in the field using a GPS unit, download that to a computer, and then create an online map using the collected data that they can share with the public. However, there might be a new way to collect GPS data that doesn’t require a handheld unit costing hundreds of dollars.
According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of American adults (56%) now own a smartphone; this is an increase of 20% in just the last two years. Most smart phones today are built to include a decent GPS chip that is useful for finding the nearest Starbucks, letting the word know where you are, and tracking your run, ride, or hike. Why not geo-referenced data collection, too?
For years, we have been scouring the app stores for the perfect navigation app that does everything a handheld GPS unit can, and maybe more. Our requirements were that it is easy to use; collects tracks, waypoints, notes, and photos; exports data in a wide variety of geospatial formats; requires minimal processing to create an online map; works on iPhone and Android; and is CHEAP! After many downloads and numerous fits and starts, we believe we are close. As a result, GTP is solidifying plans to develop and teach a “Smartphone GPS” course some time in 2014 (funding permitting). Set a reminder on your phone to remind you to look up the GTP course offerings in the spring!

Using GPS for Monitoring and Mapping Land Trust Holdings

By Cary Chadwick

On May 3, CLEAR’s Geospatial Training Program (GTP) and the Connecticut Land Conservation Council held its second session of a training course called “Using GPS for Monitoring and Mapping Land Trust Holdings.”


The one-day course is designed to teach participants how to use a handheld GPS receiver to map property boundaries and specific locations that can be monitored annually to determine and record compliance with easement restrictions.  The course is also useful for land trusts members and others looking to map trails on their properties.

The hands-on field portion of the training took place on the Haddam Land Trust’s Bamforth Wildlife Preserve, located just a mile from CLEAR’s headquarters. While walking the property, the 18 participants learned how to map property boundaries, trails, and points of interest including hypothetical violations, survey markers, invasive species, and scenic viewpoints. They also spotted a boxed turtle and garter snake. Field photographs were collected to be used in monitoring reports and mapping products. Later, back in the classroom, participants downloaded their GPS data and created interactive, online maps using free software can be shared within their organization or published on their land trust website.


For more information and to learn about future trainings, visit  In addition, CLEAR hopes to partner with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council again in the future to offer a series of workshops for Connecticut’s land trust members focused on best practices in land stewardship.