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  • Tim Kuhn, Montgomery College

Surveying and mapping in Crisfield, MD

GeoMC, the Montgomery College chapter of YouthMappers, made the three-hour drive to Crisfield, Maryland, to map the town over the course of three days. We were eager to take the skills we’ve been learning in the Applied Geography program at our college and gain in-the-field experience surveying the region, which was then unmapped on the OpenStreetMap (OSM) portal. Our team totaled nine people; our task was to take a complete inventory of all of the building and industrial stock in the span of our trip.

Crisfield is a remote town on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in the state of Maryland. We learned that Crisfield's land is largely man-made and that the city used to be the second largest Maryland city in the early 1900s, behind Baltimore. It was founded as a booming crabbing and oyster town, but has experienced problems throughout the last few decades, such as water pollution and sea level rise. The population is in steady decline as the emerging generations continue to leave, establishing their lives and careers away from the diminishing local maritime economy. The town’s placement on the bay’s shore brings with it inherent challenges as well, placing it in a high-risk area due to the rising water level of the large body of water around it.

In preparation for this trip, we used an existing street map and divided Crisfield into four different sections, specifically assigning one section to each pair. In the week preceding, we would analyze the aerial imagery of our individual regions on OSM and create the polygons and points into which we would later enter our survey data. The weather forecast was less than ideal, so, too, we had to make provisions for extended periods outside in the rain, which would be made even colder because of the coastal winds.

When we got to town, we first visited the J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum to get acquainted with the local culture, before immediately splitting into our separate groups to begin the survey. We used whatever methods we thought best to take the data and input them into OSM. Some groups opted to walk the streets taking extensive notes with a pen and notebook.They may have drawn a chicken-scratch grid of labeled squares and rectangles or marked their expeditions’ notes on laminated screenshots of Google Maps, labeling the pictured building tops with business names and house numbers. However they were taken, these notes would subsequently be added into the online database during intermittent trips to the Crisfield public library.

For some others, though, our school was able to provide a couple tablets to use out in the field. My team was one of the lucky ones. I enabled my phone’s wifi hotspot in the passenger seat, as John Shermer, my partner-in-mapping, drove us around our assigned area -- the town’s commercial district. I navigated the OSM imagery on the tablet as we drove through the streets, updating each polygon’s attributes in real time and snapping a photo of each building as we rolled by.

It has been a week since we returned from our expedition. In the meanwhile, we continue to review and polish the data online: deliberating on the consistent mapping parameters between every region, standardizing each to make a consistent and unified final product. We, too, will create a stylized printed map that we plan to present to the Crisfield’s city hall as a token of good faith to the town -- a tool to assist in their efforts in preparing for the challenges and changes to come.

Tim Kuhn has had a varied career, having spent time as a caseworker in Baltimore City, working in post-production services at Discovery Communications, and recently working with NASA to help launch the GOES-R weather satellite. He is currently studying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Montgomery College, hoping to transfer to a masters program in Urban Planning or GIS in the fall of this year. He is currently the Vice-President of GeoMC.

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