Paint Creek, Clinton River trail tours available soon via phone

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,,” 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.

Mapping of Macomb water, hike/bike trails underway

Not much more than a decade ago, planning a kayaking or canoeing trip of any distance on the Clinton River was not just difficult.

It was impossible.

With piles of fallen trees, garbage, shopping carts, tires and other debris stacking up and clogging up untold sections of the river, it resembled more of an obstacle course than a relaxing recreational resource.

Gerard Santoro, program manager for the land and water resources group of the Macomb County office of planning and economic development, remembers when a member of the kayak and canoeing industry told him the Clinton River could never be a paddling destination due to the debris and the amount of clean up that would be required.

Today, the river flows virtually unobstructed, thanks to a change of mindset that sees the river as an economic recreational attraction and a chance to show off the beauty of one of southeast Michigan’s great natural resources.

‘For the first time in my lifetime, the entire river is completely open for navigation for paddlers,’ Santoro said.

Showcasing the beauty of the Clinton River is just one of the many tasks currently being undertaken by Terrain 360, a virtual mapping company that will provide 360-degree panoramic images of not only waterways but also hike and bike trails throughout southeastern Michigan. Think Google Maps for waterways and trails.

The Richmond, Virginia-based company is being contracted through SEMCOG, the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, to map the recreational trails for all participating communities — including Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Once complete, the 360-degree mapping data will be available through SEMCOG’S Michigan Parkfinder‘s app and on individual county websites. The $70,000 cost is divided among the member counties and partially funded through a federal grant.

In total, more than 680 miles of hiking, biking and water trails in southeastern Michigan will be captured via digital imaging.

‘From Port Huron to the River Raisin,’ said Terrain 360 owner Ryan Abrahamsen.

Using a 16-foot catacraft pontoon boat, with a 10-foot pole equipped with six still cameras all taking a pictures at the same time every couple of seconds, Abrahamsen captures the 360-degree data and will match the photos with GPS coordinates. An onboard computer with software created by Abrahamsen, controls the camera information, everything from shutter speed to lighting.

‘All we have to worry about is driving the boat straight,’ Abrahamsen quipped.

He spent Friday mapping part of the coastline of Lake St. Clair before moving into the Clinton River. Other members of Terrain 360 are mapping hike and bike trails on specialized trikes equipped with similar technology. And when the trikes don’t have access to more rustic trails, backpack-mounted equipment is used to walk the trails. The company has completed similar projects all across the country.

‘It will really showcase the beauty of the outdoors,’ Abrahamsen said. ‘Most people don’t see these places. Sometimes people are afraid to come to locations like this, from not being aware that they exist, or because they’re too scared of crime or water levels. But they may not understand what it’s all about until they see it. This information will used in education, school kids can explore waterways or trails, by conservation groups, and for species identification.’

Santoro envisions the mapping technology being used to pre-plan for a trip — seeking information about where the waterway can be accessed, where boat launch areas can be identified, and prospective paddlers can making sure a section of a waterway fits their comfort level.

‘We believe this is a great way to educate the people of southeast Michigan about the incredible water assets that are readily available,’ Santoro said. ‘There is such a lack of knowledge about what’s really accessible here.’

The virtual mapping will continue into August, and Abrahamsen said some of the information should be ready by this fall. Thus far, the entire Macomb Orchard Trail bike/hike trail has been captured, as has the connecting trail from the Macomb Orchard Trail to Yates Cider Mill and down to Gene Shepherd Park in Shelby Township. Another trail along the Clinton River that goes upstream from downtown Utica into River Bends Park and out to Ryan Road has also been captured.

In Oakland County, the Clinton River Trail has been completed, along with Addison Oaks, the Paint Creek Trail, the West Bloomfield Trails and the Polly Ann Trail, which connects the communities of Orion Township, Oxford Township, the village of Oxford, Addison Township, and the village of Leonard.

Eventually, Santoro said, in Macomb County all 42 miles of the Clinton River, from Yates Cider Mill to the mouth of the river as it opens up into Lake St. Clair will be mapped, as well the Spillway, the Salt River and the entire 35-mile coastline of Lake St. Clair. The complete three-dimensional capability of the mapped areas probably won’t be available online until next spring, Santoro said.

Next year, mapping will continue up into some of the canals along the Nautical Mile, the Freedom Trail along Metropolitan Parkway, the Spillway trail, and some of the eastside connectors if funding is approved.

Across the SEMCOG region, other areas that will be mapped include:

Livingston County: 20 miles of Lakelands State Park Trail.

Mappers building a 360-degree view of county trails

KIMBALL TWP. – Andy Thompson has the wiry and tanned look of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors.

The Richmond, Virginia, resident will be seeing much of southeast Michigan from the seat of a large tricycle. He and his partner, Ryan Abrahamsen, are creating maps of trails and water routes in the seven-county region, starting with St. Clair County.

The company, called Terrain360, uses arrays of five cameras mounted on the trike and six cameras on a twin-pontoon watercraft to capture a 360-degree image about every 50 feet. Thompson says it’s like Google Street View for trails and waterways.

Tuesday, Abrahamsen and Lori Eschenburg, of the St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning Commission and the creator of the Blueways of St. Clair County website, were mapping the Black River as far up as Windsong County Park as well as part of the Island Loop National Water Trail.

Eschenburg said GPS information and the photos will be stitched into an interactive map available on the Terrain360 website.

“Fort Gratiot and Port Huron Township can take their sections from the website,” and use it on their own websites, Facebook pages or promotional materials, she said.

The effort is through the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, a seven-county regional planning association. Eschenburg said SEMCOG is footing the bill for the mapping.

“It will be all seven counties, but they are starting here in St. Clair County,” she said.

Abrahamsen and Thompson will be mapping 116 miles of blueways in the county, including the Lake Huron and St. Clair River shorelines, and 14 miles of trails including the Wadhams-to-Avoca Trail and the Blue Water River Walk.

“SEMCOG has a ParkFinder app, and we’re going to integrate this into that app,” Abrahamsen said.

Eschenburg said the data will comprise a useful online tool.

“The benefit is people who aren’t able to get on the trails can still enjoy them,” she said, noting that she and Abrahamsen saw two bald eagles on their Black River trip Tuesday. “For planning a trip, you can see all the amenities of a trail or blueway.”

She said the effort could potentially bring St. Clair County to a wider audience.

“People all over the world can be exposed to St. Clair County’s beautiful water and land trails,” Eschenburg said.

Thompson said he spent his Tuesday mapping the Clinton River and Paint Creek trails in Oakland County. He was going to do the 12.5 miles of the Wadhams-to-Avoca trail followed by the Blue Water River Walk on Wednesday before tackling the Macomb Orchard Trail through Richmond and Romeo.

“It was close to a 30-mile day yesterday,” he said. “Today will be bigger.”

He said he was looking forward to the Mill Creek Trestle on the Wadhams-to-Avoca Trail, which soars about 60 feet above the stream below.

“I’m excited about that,” he said. “I was looking online and saw the pictures.”

SEMCOG app offers 360-degree trail views

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has partnered with off-road mapping company Terrain360 to bring 360-degree views of trails and waterways across southeast Michigan to the organization’s ParkFinder app.

Representatives from the company traveled 116 miles of the Blueways of St. Clair County water trail system using boat-mounted cameras to record high-resolution footage of the waterways.

They also used bike-mounted cameras to capture 14 miles of pedestrian paths.

It is part of a regional effort to bring high-resolution imagery to the mobile app.

“This enhancement will highlight the beauty and recreation opportunities of our region while also enabling parks and trail providers to continue improving their coordination efforts,” SEMCOG Director Kathleen Lomako said in a news release.

When complete, the project will incorporate digital imagery of more than 680 miles of bike paths, hiking trails and waterways.

St. Clair County was the first of the seven-county SEMCOG area to be mapped.

For more information about the Southeast Michigan ParkFinder app, go to

Virtual tour to feature SE Michigan hiking, biking and water trails

Digital imaging similar to Google Street View will soon be available for 680 miles of hiking, biking and water trails in southeast Michigan.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is partnering with Terrain360 to capture high-resolution, 360-degree images of the region’s hiking and biking trails, trailheads, points of interest along trails, rivers, riverbanks, access points on rivers and boat or kayak launches, according to a news release.

Camera operators will capture trails from July 8 to July 18.

“This visual mapping of our region’s trail network will be integrated into Southeast Michigan ParkFinder, allowing lovers of the outdoors to preview regional assets in a virtual environment and prepare for their real-life outdoor adventures,” SEMCOG Director Kathleen Lomako said in a news release.

“This enhancement will highlight the beauty and recreation opportunities of our region while also enabling parks and trail providers to continue improving their coordination efforts.”

Featured hiking and biking trails will include:

  • Livingston County: 20 miles of Lakelands State Park Trail.
  • Macomb County: 36 miles, including Macomb Orchard Trail, Clinton River Park Trail and River Bends Park Trail.
  • Monroe County: 14 miles, including River Raisin Heritage Trail, National Battlefield Park and Sterling State Park Trails.
  • Oakland County: 55 miles, including Addison Oaks County Park and the Clinton River, Paint Creek, Polly Ann and West Bloomfield Trails
  • St. Clair County: 14 miles, including Blue Water River Walk in Port Huron and Wadhams to Avoca Trail.
  • Washtenaw County: 25 miles of Border-to-Border Trail.
  • Wayne County: 44 miles, including Detroit Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut, Downriver Linked Greenways and Hines Park Trail.

Water Trails:

  • Livingston/Oakland/Washtenaw/Wayne Counties: 140 miles of Huron River Water Trail.
  • Macomb County: 70 miles, including Clinton River Water Trail and Lake St. Clair Water Trail.
  • Monroe County: 44 miles of River Raisin Water Trail.
  • Oakland County: 41 miles of Clinton River Water Trail.
  • St. Clair County: 116 miles of Blueways of St. Clair.
  • Wayne County: 62 miles, including Detroit River Heritage Trail and Rouge River Water Trail.

Tour the Port Tobacco River from your phone

People will soon have the opportunity to explore the Port Tobacco River virtually thanks to a panoramic mapping project organized by the Port Tobacco River Conservancy and the Charles County Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism. Terrain360, a Richmond-based company that uses panoramic photography to map the country’s waterways and hiking trails using techniques similar to those in Google Street View, photographed the river from its many inlets and channels to where it joins the Potomac south of Chapel Point. Visitors to Terrain360’s site will be able to move forward and backward on paths along the shoreline and channels, as well as swivel and zoom in to look at details such as birds’ nests and other features. Ryan Abrahamsen, president of Terrain360, said that the Port Tobacco River Conservancy contacted him about mapping the river as an aid to conservation efforts along one of the county’s most scenic waterways. “It was perfect timing,” Abrahamsen said. “When I photographed the Potomac, I wasn’t able to cover Port Tobacco.” Two years ago, Terrain360 completed a mapping survey of the Potomac and many of its major tributaries from Washington, D.C., to the Chesapeake Bay, a project that resulted in over 450,000 photos being taken over the course of several weeks. The project was sponsored by the Chesapeake Conservancy. During that project, Abrahamsen took a side trip to map the shipwrecks in Mallows Bay as a standalone project. Abrahamsen said that he believes the Port Tobacco River project, by comparison, would require 10 hours and generate around 10,000 high-resolution images that he will then stitch together into a trail map that can be viewed from a web browser. Terrain360 employs pontoon boats with specially designed camera rigs that hold six DSLR cameras arranged in a circle 10 feet above the water to capture panoramic photos every 20 to 50 feet, depending on the speed of the boat and other factors. Custom software designed by Abrahamsen and colleagues allows the boat operator to control the camera settings automatically and see a live “feed” of the images as they are taken. The project is a labor of love, Abrahamsen said, and an opportunity to combine his twin passions for technology and the outdoors. “For the three months of the year when I can’t be out on the water, I do web development and programming,” Abrahamsen said. “The rest of the year, I’m out here doing what I love.” In 2012, Abrahamsen recalled, he was poking around Google Street View and began toying with the idea of doing something similar for the outdoors. He and two friends began experimenting with GoPros but soon moved on to more sophisticated DSLRs installed in a rig of his own design. Improvements in hardware, software and methods along the way have allowed Abrahamsen and his team to significantly speed up the process. When he undertook his first big mapping project in 2014, it took five months to map the 340-mileTour the Port Tobacco River from your phone | Local News | somdn…… 2 of 4 6/4/18, 9:04 AM long James River in Virginia. When he returns to the James next year to document changes since then, he expects the entire trip will take just two and a half weeks. The Port Tobacco River Conservancy, which was established in 2001 to protect the Port Tobacco River watershed from sewage contamination, works with government agencies, businesses and residents to protect the river by hosting cleanups, sponsoring environmental studies and holding public education and outreach events. The conservancy reached out to the county’s parks department, which provided funds from the park’s operations budget that allowed the conservancy to hire Terrain360 to map the river over a two-day period. “It’s a really cool concept,” said John Snow, the county’s chief of parks and grounds. “This is really exciting for the Port Tobacco River Valley, the region, and the rest of Charles County.” Snow said that the mapping project ties in nicely with the county’s vision for the area. The county recently opened a new park and natural resource area along the Port Tobacco River, is expanding the interpretive opportunities at the historic Port Tobacco Village and is preparing to enter into a 30- year agreement with the Maryland Park Service to operate the Chapel Point State Park. The Port Tobacco Marina is teaming up with a local kayak club to install a kayak launch at the marina. “The main feature that ties all these parts together is the Port Tobacco River,” Snow said. While photographing the Port Tobacco River, Abrahamsen also scouted out the possibility of installing a non-intrusive “Eagle Cam” to provide a live feed of a bald eagle nest in the Port Tobacco River Park. Snow said the parks department is also discussing the possibility of having Terrain360 map the county’s 30-plus miles of hiking trails. Tour the Port Tobacco River from your phone | Local News | somdn…… 3 of 4 6/4/18, 9:04 AM Terrain360 has designed a backpack-mounted camera rig that it uses to produce tours of hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail. Google has since developed its own version of Abrahamsen’s system, called Google Street View Trekker, which provides backpack camera rigs to people via a loan program. Abrahamsen said that he regularly wears out the cameras’ shutters from the heavy use. “I literally have like 30 cameras sitting there on my workbench, ready to go,” Abrahamsen said. The immersive trail map of the Port Tobacco River will be available on the Terrain360 website at in a few weeks. Snow said that it may also be made available through the Charles County Government website at

Conservationists turn to technology to raise awareness on Blackwater River

In order to preserve the historic Blackwater River for future generations, conservationists are acting now to record the history of the river, which can be traced back hundreds of years.

The idea of the project – virtual visitors can take a tour from the air, from the water or even underwater to see shipwrecks which are hundreds of years old.

Maps of the Blackwater River allow people to find their location and find out the water’s place in history.

From the beginning of its use in recorded history, the Blackwater River became a highway to move goods like timber downriver for the Spanish crown.

“Just to see waterways and the use they get, this is almost unbelievable. We still had this and so few people use it,” said Doug Lasater with a conservation group committed to the Blackwater River.

He also hopes the threefold mapping will catch on in other areas and encourage preservation nationwide.

“This is the way we share what we have with the rest of the community in the surrounding area and out of state,” Lasater said.

On the surface of the water, Ryan Abrahamson coasts along the water. A tower with 360-degree cameras is taking pictures for the tour.

He believes the online tour encourages people who can’t make it out the river to protect it while giving them a history of the area.

“Underneath that dark surface is dozens of shipments and underwater structures that have been there from day one. so this allows you to actually see something of that so you can participate with something under the water,” Abrahamson said.

Covering the underwater portion are West Florida Marine Archaeology graduates and students. including local Kenyan Murell.

“I now appreciate it a whole lot more once you find out the history and you just find out the resources this area has culturally,” said Murell.

For the boy from Bagdad, the project opened his eyes to the sanctuary and hopes his work will do the same for others.

“I want to try to have my part and find out as much as I can and bring it for everyone to see,” said Murell.

The virtual tour project was made possible by grants from the Santa Rosa tourism development council, a state grant, and money from Florida Coastal Management.

Group to map virtual tour of the Blackwater River

On Thursday, the nonprofit Bagdad Waterfronts Florida Partnership Inc. will be part of a boating expedition that will highlight heritage tourism while covering much of the river that’s known for its tannic water and sandy bottom.

BAGDAD — By early next year, outdoor and history enthusiasts who have an internet connection could be able to explore much of the Blackwater River without leaving home.

On Thursday, the nonprofit Bagdad Waterfronts Florida Partnership Inc. will be part of a boating expedition that will highlight heritage tourism while covering much of the river that’s known for its tannic water and sandy bottom.

The organization will partner with the Richmond, Virginia-based Terrain 360 to obtain high-resolution, 360-degree images of the river for a digital-image map. About 25 miles of the 58-mile-long Blackwater River will be photographed to create the virtual Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail.

The river’s headwaters start in south Alabama, and 49 miles of the waterway meander through Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

Overall, the creators of the virtual trail aim to protect and help educate people about the cultural resources of Santa Rosa County.

“The concept for the trail is basically built on the large number of shipwrecks on the river,” said Doug Lasater, president of the Bagdad Waterfronts Florida Partnership. “This is not only a trail, but a historical documentation of what’s in the river.”

The state-supported partnership works to protect and enhance the Bagdad Waterfront, which encompasses the Blackwater River, Pond Creek and Oakland Basin.

Lasater said many ships that continue to rest on the river’s bottom sank during and well before the 1930s. They include vessels that were destroyed during the Civil War.

“We won’t tell everyone where they’re at,” Lasater said of the wrecks, “but we’ll give general directions. “The beauty of the river is, it’s very dark in color from natural tannins, but the water quality is very good. It’s preserved a lot of these wrecks and (the dark water) has stopped them from being looted.”

Graduate students from the University of West Florida will be an important part of Thursday’s endeavor, Lasater said. They’ll share with other trip participants various details about the historic uses of the river while also helping to document the waterway.

“Students will be able to come back years later to document the sunken ships and see how things deteriorate in freshwater,” Lasater said.

During Thursday’s trip, members of Terrain 360 will photograph the river with six cameras mounted 10 feet above the water’s surface while cruising on a pontoon raft. Images will be taken every 40 feet and later joined together to create the digital-image map.

Lasater said the virtual trail will enable a wider audience to enjoy the Blackwater River in the form of an immersive, 360-degree, web-based “choose your own adventure tour.” During the tour, users will be able to learn about historic sites, including old industrial mills that now are public parks, such the Bagdad Mill Site Park.

The virtual trail could later be expanded to include the Yellow River and other waterways in the local region.

Funding assistance for the roughly $32,000 first phase of the trail project comes from the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council, the state Office of Greenways and Trails and the Bagdad Waterfronts Florida Partnership. Members of the Blackwater Pyrates, a community service-based organization serving the Bagdad and Milton areas, have donated labor and boats to help map the trail.

“Barring any weather issues, we should have something to the public by January,” Lasater said of the virtual trail.

Patuxent River 360 Virtual Tour Coming to Chesapeake Conservancy

Going where even Google hasn’t gone before:

Patuxent River 360 Virtual Tour Coming to Chesapeake Conservancy.

Anyone, anywhere, will soon be able to see the entire Patuxent River with the Chesapeake Conservancy’s 360 degree virtual tour. Starting Oct. 10, the Patuxent can be seen from a kayaker’s perspective Google Street View-style, which provides a look at the water, outlining land, boat ramps and access sites.

Highlights of tour include the protected waters of Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary and the scenic Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary.

“Many of the folks who have checked out our virtual tours are using them to plan their boating and paddling adventures,” said Jody Couser, director of communications for the Conservancy.

The Patuxent is the 11th river the Conservancy has mapped of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the country’s first all-water national historic trail, which follows Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake. Since 2014, the group has also documented the Patapsco, Potomac, Susquehanna, York, Elk, James, Nanticoke, Northeast, Rappahannock and Sassafras rivers.

The Riverview tour is the brainchild of Ryan Abrahamsen. Based in Richmond, VA, Abrahamsen has set out to “map the world 360 degrees at a time” with his company, Terrain 360. To do so, he crafted a pontoon raft with a built-in waterproof computer that controls six special cameras atop a 12-foot telescoping tower.


Abrahamsen says the 360 pontoon cost about $15,000 and is pricey to maintain. But he and the Conservancy are confident the views are worth the price and more.

“I want people to enjoy exploring the Patuxent,” he said. “This is a way for people to see places they could never even visit.”

Couser notes the tours can be informative to educators and conservationists.

“When they are wondering what the health of the Patuxent River looked like in 2017, this virtual tour will serve as a marker in time,” she said. “It will be enormously beneficial to those working to protect the river for years to come.”

The cameras on Abrahamsen’s pontoon capture 20,000 to 30,000 images a day, which are edited into a Riverview virtual tour. While he says editing is fairly easy, capturing waterways can have its difficulties. Wind and waves are a challenge, shooting can’t be done in the rain, and he has to wrap up before the sun starts to set.

Then there are the photo bombers.

“While I was shooting the James River a few years ago, a guy actually walked up and mooned me,” Abrahamsen said. “I ended up keeping the shot, but I had to blur him.”

For those planning hiking and biking, Terrain 360 also captures land-locked trails. They’ve mapped locations around the U.S. including North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the Appalachian Trail’s Bearfence Mountain. Next he hopes to outline the Chesapeake and capture the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Patuxent River tour can be seen at

Custom Pontoon Raft to Begin Photographing Patuxent River to Create Virtual Tour

(Annapolis, Md.) – Chesapeake Conservancy today announced its latest Riverview virtual tour will allow users to explore the Patuxent River using a computer, smart phone, or tablet. The tour will show the river from the perspective of a kayaker and provides access to a number of conveniences including geographic locations, historical information, and recreational amenities.

The Conservancy will once again partner with Richmond-based Terrain360 to obtain high-resolution, 360-degree images using a custom designed pontoon boat with six cameras mounted 10 feet above the water’s surface. Images will be taken every 40 feet and later stitched together to create a digital image map of each river, accessible by anyone with an Internet connection.

The virtual tour will be available to the public on the Chesapeake Conservancy’s web site at

“The Chesapeake Conservancy believes that connecting people to the Chesapeake Bay and its great rivers is critical to protecting and restoring the health of the watershed. Our hope is that these virtual tours encourage people to go out and experience the real thing,” Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn said. “The Patuxent River is a diverse and beautiful river with many different types of places and things to see. Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary provides protected waters for less experienced paddlers, while Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary provides a unique scenic view. Through our virtual tours, users can plan their next trip and see some amazing sites just 25 miles east of Washington, D.C. on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.”

The Conservancy’s 10 Riverview virtual tours completed thus far include rivers such as the Elk, Patapsco, Northeast, Nanticoke, Potomac, Rappahannock, Sassafras, Susquehanna, York, and James (courtesy of the James River Association).