Scaling a mountain or hiking across a meadow is a peaceful, exhilarating exploration – unless you don’t know which fork in the trail to take.
It used to mean taking out a folded map, holding onto it tightly so the wind won’t blow it away or trying to shelter it from raindrops. Now dealing with a map may be faster, easier and more convenient by opening your smart device and using a U.S. Forest Service digital map you downloaded for free or for a nominal fee.
“In many areas of our national forests or grasslands, internet connections are just not available,” said Joan Steber, a cartographer who worked on the digital map project. “The free app and static maps will help because the user downloads the maps to their Apple or Android device before heading to a national forest or grassland.”
The Forest Service maps are available through the PDF Maps Mobile App developed by Avenza Systems Inc. The geospatial PDF maps allow you to use the information without the need to be connected to a live network. Users can measure distance and area, find coordinates, zoom, plot marks, save place marks and add labels and other convenient ways to customize for your own experience.
The app is available for free through iTunes and the Android Play Store. The app provides access to Forest Service maps, such as motor vehicle use maps, which are free while national forest atlases are 99 cents and forest visitor maps are $4.99. Prices are pending for other agency maps.
The maps are geo-referenced with the user’s location appearing as a blue dot. The app works on iPhones (3GS or newer) and iPads with WiFi+3G. It also works with Android 4 or newer operating systems on devices with at least 1 gigabyte of memory.
“Through our web surveys, we know visitors want this type of information, and they want it mobile,” Steber said. “We have worked to offer them a product they can use easily.”
In geographic areas with Internet availability, you will be able to use the products with live data. The interactive map is expected to be available on a limited basis starting in March 2014.
The digital maps are part of the agency’s work regarding President Obama’s initiative to create a paperless government that also provides the American public with better, more accessible information. The Forest Service is currently working on the first phase of a website redesign, expected to debut early in 2014, which centers on a map-based tool for planning trips onto our nation’s forests, grasslands and other special places.
The Forest Service differs from other federal government agencies in how the Forest Visitor map is funded. The Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938 calls for the sale of maps as the funding mechanism to revise and produce maps for the public. In 1999 the Act was amended to include products available through the web as “geo-referenced data.” The Forest Service’s seven regions are tasked with uploading maps. Users should contact the regional office where a forest or grassland is located if maps are not available on the app.
Paper maps are still available for purchase online at the National Forest Store.