Internet users around the world can now experience the beauty of Acadia National Park through Terrain360.com, an innovative website that allows people to explore outdoor destinations through interactive maps and 360-degree images.
Photographers from Terrain360 — a Virginia-based company — visited Acadia at the end of July to document several popular trails in the park, and the results were launched on Terrain360.com this week.
“We’re trying to create a tool for the outdoor community — so you can see and get a sense of where you’re going before you go — to plan ahead — or when you come back, you can see where you’ve been and show your family and friends,” said Terrain360 co-owner Ross Milby.
The small company is owned by Milby, Ryan Abrahamson and Ryan Emmons, all friends living in Richmond, Va., who share a love of the outdoors. They launched the website in May 2012, and in their first year running, they’ve added interactive maps of trails in 43 parks throughout the U.S.
“It has grown pretty rapidly,” Milby said. “People just keep wanting to see more and more.”
One of their goals is to capture every national park in the country, but they are also visiting state parks and other outdoor destinations.
To attract attention to the new website, they’re targeting the most popular parks first — a list that includes Maine’s Acadia National Park, which currently attracts about 2.5 million visitors annually. In 2012, Acadia was the ninth most visited national park in the country, according to a report by the National Park Service.
Milby and fellow outdoor enthusiast Ben Holmes arrived in Maine on July 28 to hike and camp in Acadia for three days, documenting as many trails as possible.
“I’d never visited any national park besides Shenandoah National Park here in Virginia, and I was really just blown away by the beauty of Acadia,” Milby said. “It causes you to sit down in awe because of the awesomeness of it. It was really hard to get going and keep going.”
The duo’s first trail in Acadia was up Beech Mountain, which is topped by an old fire tower that offers stunning views of Mount Desert Island.
“We got to the fire tower and just stayed up there for an hour,” Milby said. “We were like, ‘Wow. Where are we?’ It was a different world.”
Milby, who grew up in Texas, is used to open spaces. When he moved to Virginia, he was shocked by the change in terrain. But Maine’s coastal landscape was even more dramatic than he expected.
In three days, they managed to map and photograph a wide variety of trails, from strenuous routes up Cadillac Mountain to the easy coastal Wonderland Trail.
Acadia’s Ocean Path was one of Milby’s favorite routes.
“I like to rock climb, and I just had no clue that Acadia was a pretty world-renowned climbing spot,” he said. “So to come across all the climbers on the cliffs was just a huge treat. The ocean was right below them. How epic is that?”
“We definitely didn’t get to capture everything I wanted to capture,” Milby said. “Doggone that Precipice Trail; nesting was going on, which was kind of frustrating. But we got to do the Beehive, at least.”
Acadia’s Precipice Trail is closed every summer to accommodate nesting falcons as they raise their fledglings. It reopens in the autumn, when the birds have left their nests. Beehive Trail is similar to Precipice in that it climbs a cliff and requires hikers to use metal rungs and ladders to reach the top.
To obtain panoramic views along each trail, Milby simply uses a digital SLR camera, modified with a fisheye lens and rotated on a tripod. The camera is synced up to a Garmin GPS unit, which is used to map the trail and pinpoint the location of each panorama along the trail.
The Terrain360 web team — Abrahamson and Emmons — then manually stitch together the images to create a panorama of each location. The information is fed through software developed by Emmons to create the final product — virtual representations of each trail that internet users can navigate with their mouse.
All content on Terrain360.com is free for the public to access.
“What we’re trying to do is just encourage people to, in seeing the beauty of the outdoors on our site, then in turn, want to get outside and experience it for themselves,” Milby said. “That just kind of sums it up right there.”
To fund their outdoor endeavor, Terrain360 sells custom virtual tours of business buildings, schools and event venues.
Milby, who plans and oversees the Terrain360 fieldwork, said that he’d like to return to Acadia to document more trails, but for now, the team is headed west. They just returned from Utah’s Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park; and their next trip may include the Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park and California’s Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
“Right now we’re just trying to work out way around the country,” Milby said.
Though Milby isn’t sure when he’ll have the chance to revisit Acadia, he plans to return to Maine next year while hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail for Terrain360. Starting in March at the trail’s southern end in Georgia, Milby will hike north, photographing panoramic views along the entire trail, which ends at the top of Maine’s mighty Katahdin.