NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 14, 2015) – A group of park rangers, regulators and engineering technicians took a class April 6-10 to learn the basics of collecting and analyzing geospatial data for natural resource management and the protection of the nation’s waterways.
Bobby Sells, geospatial manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, said the objective of the class was to teach geospatial information systems, GPS collection and collector tools, which can provide instant data for things like asset management, preparing planning documents, bidding contracts, issuing permits, verifying easements, and being able to provide recreation information to the public.
“The data they are collecting in the field is going to help us tremendously with recreation,” Sells said.
Sells said the Corps has a lot of information about its campsite designs and old maps on paper that were created by hand. The vision is to use GIS to provide 360-degree views of specific campsites to the public with specific attributes of the site to include its power capabilities, sewage hookup, and perhaps its lakeside view, he added.
The five-day in-house training covered 10 modules that included subjects such as GIS concepts, file management, data sources, projections, editing, analysis, attributes and map composition. It also included information about available software, online resources, GPS theory, and use of a GPS handheld collection unit.
“The training included an introduction to working with ArcMap, working with web applications for mapping, and GPS training,” said Allison Walker, natural resources specialist in the Nashville District’s Natural Resources Management Branch. “The goal of the training is to encourage the use of the geospatial program in the operations business lines.”
Matthew Davis, realty specialist, and Aras Barzanji, hydraulic engineer, led a practical exercise on the streets of Nashville April 9 where the students operated the handheld GPS units to collect geospatial data.
Davis said the exercise provided each student an opportunity to become familiar with their “Trimble” GPS unit and to feel comfortable with operating it.
“So we’re just trying to give them a basic overview so that they can do this in the field without that much supervision,” Davis said. “They can pass it to other rangers who are not here and they can become the subject matter experts for their project… and everyone will use it more and we’ll have better data in the end.”
Park Ranger Kathryn Wall, GIS coordinator at Old Hickory Lake, said the staff at the lake plans to use GIS for natural resources management and maintenance.
“So when they (maintenance staff) go out into the field and they need to fix something they can pull up and see it right there (on their handheld unit),” Wall said. “They don’t have to search through the big file cabinet like they used to do. As far as park ranger work goes the boundary line is a big issue for us. We would love to be able to collect some points for that… anything that really has to do with natural resources would help us.”
Wall also said there are online GIS applications they can also use to manage watersheds, wetlands, and facilities. She said they also hope to collect information for boaters and kayakers and for campers to help them with planning their activities.
The Nashville District Regulatory Division is also interested in using GIS to enhance its mission of protecting the nation's aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions.
Ken Jones, regulatory specialist with the Nashville District’s Eastern Regulatory Field Office in Lenoir City, Tenn., also took the class and participated in the practical exercise. He said GIS technologies will help with the collection of data about “waters of the United States” that are regulated by the Corps pursuant to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which includes marshes, swamps, streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, seasonally saturated forested and non-forested wetlands.
Jones said data points and maps are stored in a regulatory database for record keeping purposes and permitting actions, and so getting out and using the latest technology will help him with his day-to-day duties.
“It was really interesting to see the new technology, the updates, the upgrades, to see what is available up here in the district office that we can check and sign out and possibly use if we have to in the future,” Jones said. “I actually got to use a couple of separate units, two different versions, so that was interesting to see the difference in those.”
Sells said GIS is valuable because the Corps can use it to improve its processes and get away from doing business as usual.
“Right now we are so paper driven. We’ve got records we don’t know what to do with,” Sells said. “But we can take that same level of data and put it into this digital format and attach it geospatially, and now we’ve significantly reduced the footprint and dramatically improved the capability and use of that data.”
Based on interest by others in the Nashville District, Sells said he plans to schedule additional GIS classes in the future.
Other students receiving training were John Price, Forrest McDaniel, Mark Carnes, Gary Bruce, Sarah Peace, Kenny Claywell, Dustin Boles, Dave Hall, Lisa Morris, David Dame, Curt Hendricks, Brad Potts, Amy Redmond, Trey Church, Brian Mangrum, Dylon Anderson and Will Worrall.
(For more news, updates and information follow the Nashville District on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps)