In my work as an outdoors writer I spend a lot of time visiting websites of various state resource agencies. It’s been my experience that the Pennsylvania Game Commission has one of the best sites in the region. With the addition of its new Mapping Center it has gotten even better.
“The new Mapping Center represents a big upgrade in terms of the quantity and quality of information available,” said Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “Anyone interested in spending time on state game lands, or other public-access properties, will find it useful.”
The Mapping Center includes a short video on how to use the program. It was developed in partnership with GeoDesigns and is part of a three-year initiative by the agency to improve its GIS mapping.
Basically, here’s how the new program works: Opening it brings up a statewide map, divided by the agency’s six regions. From there you can zoom in to the area you’d like to examine. There’s also a search feature, so you can zero in on specific game lands by plugging in the appropriate number. While the program is designed to provide exceptional detail of state game lands, the entire state is accessible to the viewer, not just game lands properties.
The foundation of the mapping application is the basemap, which as the name suggests is the background map on which all additional information is applied. There are six basemap options, thus you have options as to its look. The default map is a topographic map, one with light detailing. This allows other aspects — such as state game land borders — to contrast well, making them easy to see.
Other basemap options include the standard USGS topo; National Geographic’s topo; two that show aerial imagery; and one that highlights roads and streets.
Having these choices a mere click away makes it easy to evaluate a potential hunting spot. For instance, your initial view of a state game land can be made with the default topo basemap. This view is ideal for seeing property borders. If you’d like more topographic detail, merely switch to the USGS basemap. You’ll be looking at the exact same area, only with the other basemap. Now how about specific forest covering? Clicking on imagery gives you the aerial view so you can evaluate aspects like age of the forest, openings, utility right-of-ways, etc.
The user also has alternatives in regard to “layers.” By applying various layers of information you can tailor things to your specific needs. For example, one layer is called “game lands layers.” Within this category you can fine-tune things to show (or not show) items like parking areas, trails, roads, streams, wetlands, etc. This way your map will show the stuff you want to see, but won’t be cluttered with unwanted details.
Another additional layer category is “hunter access,” of which one option is the location of private landowners enrolled in the commission’s land access programs. The icons showing the location of cooperators are keyed to display any restrictions, such as “big game hunting restrictions.” All these choices are made by way of drop-down menus and sub-menus.
The past couple weeks I’ve spent a lot of time in the mapping center using another of its cool features: the draw and measure tool. With it you can easily measure between map points. A simple click of an icon turns the cursor into an electronic pencil, with which you can draw a line between two locations to determine distance. I’ve used this tool when searching out potential native brook trout streams, more specifically to see how far certain stream sections are from the nearest access point, a case in which farther is better.
You can easily save any maps you’ve personally customized. This can be done electronically by bookmarking it, so you can return to it the next time you’re on the site, or for a handy tool to take afield or keep in your truck you can print hardcopies.
If you have a high-speed Internet connection and a computer with a relatively recent operating system, check out the PGC’s Mapping Center by logging on to the agency’s website at www.pgc.state.pa.us; under “quick links” on the home page click on “state game land maps.” From this page you can access the new Mapping Center, view the tutorial video or log on to the old mapping site.