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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.

31 Waterways in 31 Days

fb4We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.” ― David Brower

As yet another new year beckons (entirely too quickly for our liking) we may be reflecting on the things we have made this year but also on what we aspire to in the coming year.

Take the challenge! Let’s make 2017 a year to explore the beauty of Virginia – in snow or sun. When winter hits, it’s easy to just forego the outdoors and stay home close to the fire. That’s fine if you live somewhere that dumps three feet of snow in your front yard every other day, but we don’t have that problem, right? So…to light your inner fire, in the next 31 days we’ll take you through 31 absolutely amazing waterways. Of course, they will be that much more beautiful to experience live, yet another option available for the stay-at-home nature-lovers… ->

Winter may not be the most popular season for boating or fishing … But another year comes, and warmer seasons …

A small boat is mapping the entire Susquehanna River as we speak

A small boat is traversing the length of the Susquehanna River, from upstate New York to the Chesapeake Bay, for mapping’s sake.

The Chesapeake Bay Conservancy and Richmond, Va.-based mapping outfit Terrain360 teamed up for the summer river cruise. For now, the focal point is a vessel outfitted with six cameras, which take pictures of the Susquehanna River every 50 feet during the trip. There’s some room left for people, too, as a rotating crew will man the boat.
Continue reading A small boat is mapping the entire Susquehanna River as we speak


Thanks to Michael Raphael for the heads up on this very interesting use of outdoor imagery. It’s not lidar, at least not yet, but it is a very cool use of panoramic photography. is your interactive trail companion providing 360 degree panoramic tours of some of the most beautiful terrain in and around Virginia. After an incredible day of hiking and kayaking down one of Virginia’s finest waterways, the founding partners of beached themselves on an island and began brainstorming over what would soon become the most innovative trail mapping software to date. Continue reading Terrain360

Terrain 360 will be first to photograph the entire James River

This summer the James River, all 340 miles of it, will be photographed Richmond-based Terrain 360 and Outside Adventure. On May 8, the boat dubbed the “Photohantas,”  floated around the James River boat landing just north of the swinging bridge at Twin Rivers Outfitters. Busy with kayaks and fishermen in canoes, the river season is already in full swing in Buchanan even on a Thursday at noon.

Using a circular camera set-up featuring 7 millimeter fisheye lenses and camera perched atop a pole, the river will be photographed and sent to Amazon Cloud to have the film put together. Continue reading Terrain 360 will be first to photograph the entire James River

Outdoors Notes: 360 Tours of the James River Coming

I got a quick taste of what it was like to be a part of a 360 tour photo project — you know, like you’d see on your favorite search website’s street mapping tool — only it was done by a local company and there were no streets. They are mapping the James River.

This summer, Richmond-based Outside Ventures, LLC and the James River Association is working on a groundbreaking project to capture the scenery of the James River in a completely new way allowing online viewers to explore the entire 340-mile length of the James River through high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic images. They said the “Tour of the James” will be the first comprehensive photo documentary of an entire river and will allow the viewer to travel from the headwaters of the James River to its mouth at the Chesapeake Bay.

Six cameras mounted on a stainless steel housing 10 feet above the water’s surface will capture panoramic photos every 30 feet from a custom-made pontoon raft floating down river (see the photos, linked at left). These high-resolution photos will then be stitched together to create a 360-degree augmented reality map of the river corridor. For examples of other 360-degree tours,

The Tour of the James was initiated as a result of Envision the James, a collaborative effort between National Geographic, the Chesapeake Conservancy and JRA. It is the hope that the Tour of the James will share the river experience with a wider audience; empowering Virginians to further explore the wild beauty of the James River. The project will include a virtual and interactive interpretation of natural, recreational and historic features in the river corridor, such as notable rapids, boat ramps and Civil War sites.

RVA No. 10: Terrain 360

If you haven’t seen the Terrain 360 bumper stickers riding around the Commonwealth, perhaps you’ve missed the latest breakthrough in trail technology. brings users an interactive, virtual platform for navigating Virginia’s hiking trails and mountain biking trails, along with many of Virginia’s waterways and race terrain. Available on PCs and mobile devices, Terrain 360 allows users to explore Virginia’s trail systems from an entirely new perspective with 360 degree panoramic photography. Continue reading RVA No. 10: Terrain 360