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Summer 2003
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Esri and Partners Provide GIS Support for the American Frontiers Trek

One of the GIS support vehicles and Hulls Cabin near the south rim of the Grand Canyon, running on solar power and beaming data up to Esri.

On July 31, 2002, two teams of trekkers departed from opposite borders of the western United States on an epic journey across a contiguous mosaic of exclusively public lands. Dubbed as the historic American Frontiers Trek, this traverse of public geography between Canada and Mexico was inspired and coordinated by the Public Lands Interpretive Association ( and sponsored by a variety of federal and commercial organizations including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), USDA Forest Service (USFS), National Geographic Society, and the American Honda Motor Co.

The two trek teams traveled through national forests, Bureau of Land Management tracts and waterways, national parks, and state lands. Adding to the expedition's diversity, daily modes of transportation ranged from bicycling, hiking, and horseback riding to rafting, canoeing, dirt bike riding, and more. On September 26, 2002, the teams completed their respective halves of the trek, joining in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest near Salt Lake City, Utah. The following day the trek's successful conclusion was celebrated on Public Lands Day at a ceremony hosted by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and other federal land management agency leaders.

When Esri Business Partner Earth Analytic, Inc., of Santa Fe, New Mexico, learned of the BLM need for field-based GIS support for the trek, it spearheaded a last-minute, cooperative effort to provide state-of-the-art mobile GIS and field communications support. The challenge was to put together two fully equipped GIS support units for each of the two trek teams in a matter of weeks and integrate them into the existing trek support network. To assist in this task, Earth Analytic and Esri enlisted the help of several Business Partners including AllPoints GIS, and Hewlett-Packard Company. Symbol Technologies also participated.

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A snapshot of the American Frontiers ArcIMS application developed and hosted by the Geography Network.

Drawing on expertise in field data collection, GIS mapping and analysis, and satellite communications, Earth Analytic provided two mobile GIS and communications trailers for the duration of the trek. In addition to outfitting and mobilizing the field trailers, one of the earliest tasks in this effort was the processing and augmentation of GIS data sets previously assembled by the Bureau of Land Management. The resulting preexpedition database was then integrated with a custom ArcIMS application developed by Esri's Application Prototype Lab and Geography Network staff in Redlands, California.

By the time the trek began, Earth Analytic, with the help of Business Partners and friends, had assembled and delivered two state-of-the-art mobile technical support vehicles equipped with self-pointing satellite Internet dishes (; solar powered equipment provided by the Hopi nonprofit Native Sun (; a large assortment of computers and printers loaned by Hewlett-Packard (; a suite of GIS software provided by Esri; and a massive, custom GIS database for the entire trek route. High-resolution GPS equipment provided by Earth Touch Solutions ( and Trimble ( would prove instrumental in keeping the trekkers exclusively on public lands while traversing a checkerboard of public and private holdings.

AllPoints GIS ( stepped up to the plate, helping to coordinate the search for qualified GIS volunteers needed to staff the mapping trailers for the entire two-month trek. GIS volunteers included Brenda Baletti, Chris Carpenter, Scott Cutler, Wetherbee Dorshow, Tom Dudley, Gen Green, Amanda Hargis, Damon Judd, Hollis Lawrence, Julie Luetzelschwab, Tim O'Brien, William Penner, Geordie Robb, Bonnie Rusk, Marlene Shields, and Andrew Stephens. These individuals worked very long hours, under difficult conditions at times, to provide crucial and much-appreciated support.

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A snapshot of the interactive 3D viewer built by Earth Analytic and Latitude Geographics atop the Geography Network's American Frontiers map service.

Throughout the course of the trek, GIS volunteer technicians downloaded, processed, and managed a variety of data sets generated by the trekkers including daily GPS-based route data, digital photography, and field journals. Drawing on GPS data and field notes of the trekkers and their support teams, the GIS technicians regularly updated map data sets of the actual trek routes, stopping places, and modes of transportation. These data sets periodically were uploaded from the support trailers via satellite dish to the Geography Network. The trek GIS technicians also provided invaluable support to the trek teams in the field by facilitating frequent, unanticipated trek reroutes; developing custom maps and downloadable GPS tracks for daily use; and producing map graphics for public events. In addition, by maintaining field-based network and satellite Internet connectivity in the GIS trailers, the trek technicians effectively facilitated the regular uploading of digital photos and journals to the official trek Web site.

Back in Redlands, California, Esri staff processed field-based mapping data and added it to the official trek Web site (, delivering a near real-time mapping application. A custom ArcIMS interface linked trek spatial data with temporally and geographically associated photos, journal entries, and other trek-related information. Building on this ArcIMS backbone, Earth Analytic teamed up with Latitude Geographics Group ( to provide an alternative series of 2D and 3D Web-based viewers. All of these interactive maps are accessible on the Web (

The American Frontiers GIS support effort was a challenge undertaken on extremely short notice by an interesting collection of professionals whose only reward was the experience itself. Many thanks to the volunteers who shared their time and expertise to help this project and to the companies that provided goods and services that allowed them to succeed.

For more information, please contact Wetherbee Dorshow (e-mail:, Web:

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