Natural Atlas Crowdsources Cartography

Unlike a paper map, Natural Atlas is a new, continuously changing online map that will allow users to update information about the outdoors in real time.

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Natural Atlas is a new online mapping platform that reconsiders the way we interact with and share information about the outdoors. The dynamic topographic map is marked with 250 different features to help outdoor adventurers plan better, including trails, creeks, bridges and fences. In addition, each feature on the map has a designated page with deeper information about specifics like the taste of the water, the current state of a bridge, or a suggestion for a nearby campsite. It’s a trail map version 2.0 — one that has the potential to extend way beyond the usual trails.

The site is based on the same idea behind Wikipedia: crowdsourcing. By deferring to the knowledge of those most in the know — like locals and recent hikers — a better map can be created than the atlases we’ve come to rely on and pay for. Natural Atlas offers open access to reading and editing maps to the public, in hopes of producing a better overall product. Of course, founders Brandon and Brian Reavis couldn’t have done it without the help of existing maps.

The brothers sourced data from the Bureau of Land Management, The National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as fellow crowdsourcers, OpenStreetMap, to form the foundation of their project. Over time, though, the maps will be handed over to users who can update details that make or break a trip: a trickle of fresh drinking water or a bridge made by a fallen tree. Furthermore, being digital, the entire interface becomes searchable. Want waterfalls? Type it in and see them pop up on the map around you.

Though the current site only has maps of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho available, more are surely on the way. The founders also hope to incorporate real-time data like water levels, flow speeds and weather. Other additions to the site will be geological and land ownership maps that will be subscription-based, so that the otherwise free service can continue to be free and open to the public.

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