Making Maps Of Princeton’s Parks And Trails Online

Scenic beauty in Princeton's  Woodfield Reservation, April 13, 2014. (click to expand.)

Scenic beauty in Princeton’s Woodfield Reservation, April 13, 2014. (click to expand.)

In Princeton, we have amazing parks and preserved open space, but what’s the best way to explore it all? Many trail maps are hard to find, and there is no single place where you can find them all together. Google Maps offers a solution, because it includes many trails. On the other hand, a lot of trail information is missing. But it is relatively easy to add trails in ourselves…

Newly-annotated trails in Herrentown Woods, in north-east Princeton. (click to expand).

Newly-annotated trails in Herrentown Woods, in north-east Princeton. (click to expand, or click here to see a scrollable map at the Google Maps website).

Winter of 2014-2015 has been the coldest since 1994, with enough snow and ice to make enjoying local parks a challenge. I’ve been spending more time than I’d like to indoors, and some of that time has been dedicated to adding local trails onto Google Maps. For example, the trails in Herrentown Woods (see above), Gulick Farms, and open space east of Kingston were all added by me this winter. I went around all these trails last year, and saved the routes using a GPS device. (Many devices allow GPS mapping, including most smartphones). Adding the trails onto the online map makes me happy, knowing that it may help others discover these beautiful natural areas, and explore them on foot. It’s a work in progress, and many of the trails are still incomplete or need to be corrected.

This is where you might want to join in. You, too, can add trails (or any other map info) onto Google Maps*. Go to ‘Google MapMaker‘, log in, and use the point and click tools to draw trails onto the map, add on to existing trails, or edit other map data. The interface is a bit clunky, but my guess is that Princeton people are smart enough to figure it out.

Screenshot of Google MapMaker interface. (click to expand).

Screenshot of Google MapMaker interface. (click to expand).

After you make edits, you will probably have to wait until another user ‘approves’ your edit before it appears on the official Google Maps. This is slightly annoying but necessary to stop spammers and abusers from putting useless data onto the system. The more editors we have in Princeton, the quicker we can collaboratively get changes approved, and add all our local knowledge. Right now, the quality of the map data is very variable. Some places, such as Princeton University campus, have loads of detailed info. Other places have almost no data, or very poor data. For example, the trails in Woodfield Reservation are completely missing, and the entire 100-acre park is currently tagged only with the words ‘Stony Brook’:

One of Princeton's largest open space areas, the Woodfield Reservation, isn't even labeled correctly on Google Maps at the time of writing. (click to expand)

One of Princeton’s largest open space areas, the Woodfield Reservation off Great Road, isn’t even labeled correctly on Google Maps at the time of writing. (click to expand)

Some maps of local parks are online already – if you can find them. But Google Maps has several advantages. First, you can use online tools to easily calculate distance and walking time between two points. This can be hard using traditional maps. Second, while walking, a trail user can use a smartphone to check their position against the online map. This makes it much harder to get lost when exploring an unfamiliar park or trail network. We have a pretty amazing amount of open space in Princeton. Let’s make it easily accessible to the greatest possible number of people.

* Some of you reading this may be saying, ‘why not use OpenStreetMap instead’? I totally hear you, and encourage you to use whatever mapping application you most prefer.

Got a favorite park or open space area in Princeton? Let us know in the comments section below.

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