Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of FVTC students. © Kathleen Harris

FVTC students used ultra-precise GPS units.
© Kathleen Harris

August 2011

A walk in the park

Fox Valley Tech maps Peninsula State Park.

Kathleen Harris

Take a 102-year-old park that has several trails based on old logging roads. Mix in a variety of recreational pursuits (from horse trails, closed in 1964, to present-day mountain bike trails). Add 14 wells, miles of sewer lines, and a treatment plant that can process 50,000 gallons of sewage a day. You have the infrastructure of Peninsula State Park – complex, to say the least.

Last winter, Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) students enrolled in Professor Bruce Cecka's Surveying II class volunteered to help clarify the park's infrastructure, including the 40- mile trail system. Forty students spent two days at Peninsula using GPS to map everything from roads to sewer covers. "This graded project is a summative assessment," said Cecka. "Students learn how to collect data and draft GIS maps using ARC software." When preparing students for the size of Peninsula (3,776 acres), Cecka told them not to worry: "Think of it as a walk in the park."

Proceeds from nature merchandise sales at Peninsula State Park (facilitated by Friends of Peninsula State Park) funded the group's meals.

Trails, roads and campgrounds in Peninsula are well-marked, but published maps reflect "best guesses" as to exact locations. Today's technology enables the park to collect data using state-of-the-art GPS units that take readings off several satellites. The $100 hand-held GPS unit a family uses is good enough to find a geocache in the park. The units FVTC students used for this project were far more precise, with a sub-foot accuracy of six inches. These units were the project's "workhorses." Cecka brought seven of the units, each valued at $7,000. Students also used 16 hand-held, dual frequency units, each valued at $4,000.

For some FVTC students, it was their first time at Peninsula. "It's gorgeous along the lakeshore," said Natural Resources major Andrew Krsnich. "This project has given me surveying experience and a fun time."

Matt Jacob hadn't been to Peninsula since camping in Tennison Bay Campground as a boy. He was part of the team that mapped Skyline and Highland roads. "There were a couple of spots where the cedar trees were thick, and the satellite reception was bad." They got the job done, nonetheless.

The collaboration between FVTC and Wisconsin State Parks is a win-win for all concerned. Students gain valuable real-life work experience. Peninsula staff is able to use high-tech data to improve maps for accuracy, safety and maintenance. And visitors know their tax dollars and donations to Friends of Peninsula State Park are being put to good use.

Kathleen Harris is a Peninsula State Park naturalist.