The Stevens Point community now has another tool for analyzing and exploring Schmeeckle Reserve.
A team of students from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point created a free, online interactive map of the reserve that allows users to examine information like soil types, forest cover and historic aerial imagery in real-time on mobile devices and computers.
Assistant Director Jim Bucholz said the project was the next step in an ongoing process of gathering data about the reserve. The organization reached out to the university in 2013 to see if students and faculty could help develop an interactive map usable for scientific research, learning experiences and recreation.
“We thought it would be great to have an interface that everyone could access,” Bucholz said. “It was the idea that we have all these layers. Now how do we put them into something we can use?”
Christine Koeller, associate professor of geographic information systems, advised students Mason Johnson, Chase Bayer and Krista Kamke, who volunteered to take on the project. She said the students’ first task was to meet with the client and discuss the specifics of who the target audience was and what information the map needed to display.
Bucholz said one of his main interests was mapping the current reserve boundaries on top of old air photos to see how the area has changed over time. The map allows the user to note changes to features like Moses Creek and Lake Joanis by switching photos, he said.
Johnson, senior water resources major minoring in GIS, had previous work experience in GIS from a Wisconsin River flowage project he worked on with Koeller. He took the lead on the imagery part of the reserve map and said making the old photos usable was one of the most difficult parts.
Koeller and other faculty provided technical support for the students throughout the project. The students were quick learners, she said, and she was pleased by their effort considering that they received no class credit or payment. The nature of the project allowed the students to gain skills transferable to careers in the geography field, she said.
“They really got a sense of how to put a project together,” Koeller said. “I think this is probably more valuable than any internship could be.”
The original map was published in spring 2015 was well received by the community but was not usable on mobile devices, he said. Johnson used special software to make the map mobile-friendly and re-released the updated version this fall. He said the web developing software he used made the process relatively simple.
“It was actually really easy. Everything is really compatible,” he said. “I really enjoyed learning the new software.”
Johnson is planning to graduate in December and apply for masters programs. He said the experience working with the reserve has given him experiences that pair with both his areas of study and also allowed him to learn new skills in web building he can put on his resume.
“The collaboration between staff and students was great,” he said. “It’s bringing both my research interests into one which is very beneficial to me.”