ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments is preparing to offer a new resource to residents and visitors to the southeast Michigan area: visual mapping of several of the region’s parks, trails and waterways.
Comparing the resource to Google Maps, SEMCOG has partnered with Terrain360, a company that uses high-resolution, panoramic, 360-degree digital cameras to capture images that allow users of SEMCOG’s Michigan Park Finder app to view three-dimensional tours of those trails.
“The walking trails will be mapped using a trike bicycle with a camera above it,” explained Kevin Vettraino, manager of plan implementation at SEMCOG. “There are a few areas where they will be using a backpack unit, where the trike can’t get to. The water trails will be mapped using boats, which slowly meander down rivers and lakes taking photos every few seconds. The cameras take panoramic, 360-degree photos every few seconds, which are then combined into the final virtual images.”
Areas in Oakland County that will be mapped in this way include 55 miles of hiking and biking trails, including at Addison Oaks County Park and on the Clinton River, Paint Creek, Polly Ann and West Bloomfield trails. SEMCOG also will map 41 miles of water trails in Oakland County, including along the Clinton River.
The mapping process will take place throughout July, and the 360-degree images will be ready for the public in the autumn.
“Our goal is to have this completed by September or October,” said Vettraino. “All the actual mapping will be done by Terrain360 personnel. We will be helping provide them with assistance by giving them people who know the trails and know the area they’re mapping.”
Last week, Andy Thompson and Ryan Abrahamsen, of Terrain360, were in the Rochester area mapping the trails and waterways. Thompson hit the Paint Creek and Clinton River trails on a trike equipped with five mounted cameras — complete with light sensors that allow computers to change shutter speeds automatically while on location. Abrahamsen climbed aboard a twin-pontoon watercraft equipped with six cameras to capture a 360-degree image about every 50 feet for mapping. Thompson said it’s like Google Street View for trails and waterways.
“We’ve had a great time so far,” Thompson said. “I am just blown away by how many rails to trails, and just the network of trails, there are in Michigan. Paint Creek Trail kind of hugs the Paint Creek in a way that is just gorgeous, especially as you get down toward Rochester. I also had a great time on the Polly Ann Trail in Lake Orion. I love how it will go from a town to a more rural area. It’s just really neat, the variety of landscape that we have ridden through.”
The resource will be available through SEMCOG’s Michigan Park Finder app.
“Park Finder is a mobile app, which contains information on regional parks from small parkland to huge regional parks,” Vettraino added. “It provides residents and visitors with the attributes of those parks. If I want to know where I can play basketball, for instance, it can tell me which parks are close to where I’m going to be and which have courts. It’s a one-stop shop for all of our park assets. … You can just click the option for park view and see the 360-degree imagery when you are looking at the park, as opposed to just seeing a line on a map or still photos.”
Vettraino thinks this will encourage more residents to visit the trails and help them plan new outdoor activities.
“Our hiking and biking trail maps … give you really great scenery, the sense of elevation, the terrain and what sort of sights you will encounter,” he continued. “Seeing things like the length of the shoreline and the current will undoubtedly help people considering an activity like kayaking a certain river.”
Vettraino said adding this resource to the region will not only aid local residents, but also help promote tourism.
“We know that trails are an economic driver. People like to get outdoors, so we are looking at this from a tourism standpoint. If people know we have great trails, we are promoting those assets,” he said. “We also are letting residents know what they have in their own backyard. It provides momentum to let people know what great options they have for recreation here.”
Those affiliated with the trails are looking forward to being able to use the maps to better assist those they serve, and they also hope the tool will help draw in potential new trail users.
Paint Creek Trail Manager Kristen Myers said the Paint Creek Trailways Commission is excited to be part of SEMCOG’s Terrain360 project.
“We had been looking into ways to provide new visitors this type of Google Street View imagery for a while. As part of the state’s Iron Belle Trail Network and a trail of regional significance, the Paint Creek Trail is a perfect location for part of this project. Current and new visitors will be able to see a preview of the beautiful surroundings and native plant communities, as well as view the amenities we provide. We hope the 360-degree imagery captures the essence of the Paint Creek Trail and the Paint Creek itself, and look forward to our on-the-ground trail view to be integrated into the Michigan Park Finder website as well as our website, www.paintcreektrail.org,” Myers said in an email.
Friends of the Clinton River Trail President Richard Harrison said the project helps promote trails and thus adds to the quality of life in the surrounding communities.
“Trails enhance the quality of life hugely … so I think (this project) is fantastic. You will be able to go on the internet and actually go down the trail,” he said.
Harrison said the mapping tool will help familiarize users with new areas of the trail they haven’t yet explored. The Clinton River Trail passes through five cities in the middle of Oakland County — Rochester, Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills, Pontiac and Sylvan Lake.
“Allowing one to become familiar with our trail assets and challenges will make the participants more comfortable using Oakland County’s fine network of trails,” he said.