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Maryland river conservation highlighted via virtual maps

ON THE PATUXENT RIVER | First mapped by John Smith in 1608, Maryland’s serene Patuxent River now is being carefully photographed to create a virtual map that can be accessed via smartphones and computers.

Today’s high-tech mapping of the Patuxent is part of a project to create a virtual tour of the 3,000-mile Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail, which the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy has undertaken with Ryan Abrahamsen of Terrain360.

“What we’re doing here is groundbreaking,” Mr. Abrahamsen said last week as he directed his custom-made pontoon raft down the river during a mapping expedition. “No one’s mapped waterways like we have.”

Since 2012 his company, Terrain360, has specialized in creating 360-degree views of trails and parks, and has produced virtual tours of nature attractions in California, Utah, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia — and now Maryland.

To photograph and document the river, Mr. Abrahamsen has built a watercraft that supports a tower with six fisheye-lensed cameras. As he travels the length of the waterway, a computer program he has designed monitors and synchronizes the cameras when they take photos.

Users accessing are treated to a virtual reality of some of the nature preserves around the country, “walking” a trail or “sailing” down a river by moving their mobile devices left or right. Desktop computers allow users to explore all aspects of the documented trails.


Jody Couser of the Annapolis-based Chesapeake Conservancy said that creating a vivid, easily accessed presentation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a key component of the group’s conservation efforts.

“A few years ago we started this project to try to connect people — at least virtually — to the Chesapeake Bay’s great rivers, because we know that you’re not going to help protect the Chesapeake and fight for it and try to restore the Chesapeake if you’re not familiar with it,” Ms. Couser said.

Terrain360’s views of the Patuxent are also available on the Chesapeake Conservancy’s web site.

“We thought of several ways to try and connect people at least virtually to these places. These virtual tours are one example, and another is our wildlife webcams, Ms. Couser said. “What we’re hoping is that will be maybe an entry point for people, but we definitely want them to come out and experience the real thing.”

The conservancy is conducting several projects that monitor and map key areas to sharpen understanding of conservation needs such as water quality, fish survey count, land use and conservation. Other programs to engage the public include the webcams that are placed in the nests of ospreys, great blue herons and peregrine falcons.

Of its virtual tours, one of the conservancy’s most frequently visited sites is Mallow’s Bay, famous for its “ghost ships” — a veritable graveyard of destroyed seacraft, many from World War I, that were built quickly and in excess, Ms. Couser said.

“When you build something quickly, they’re often not the best quality, so after the war they decided they no longer needed them. Back in those days, they discarded them in the Potomac River — which we would never do today, of course,” she said. “But over time, now the shipwrecks have become thriving ecological habitats.”

Ms. Couser and Mr. Abrahamsen said the virtual tours are useful tools for people to research or plan a visit.

Stretching some 115 miles from the Piedmont region to the bay, the Patuxent is the longest river completely within Maryland’s borders. It separates Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles and St. Mary’s counties on its west side from Howard, Anne Arundel and Calvert counties on its east.

John Smith, who helped settle Jamestown, Virginia, explored part of the Patuxent and the Chesapeake with the aid of American Indians, and created maps that were used by travelers and traders for hundreds of years.

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