On My Way: Mapping a new trail

The bouncing ball led the way, while placing a trail on the TrailsMV app.


A few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity of following a bouncing ball.

Have you ever wondered how a trail makes its way onto a map, into a guidebook, or onto an app on your phone, along with little nuggets of information like the location of a resting bench?

Chris Seidel, cartographer for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), and Nancy Tutko, TrailsMV project manager for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (SMF), answered this question on an outing to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s Short Cove Preserve.

We met at the trailhead in West Tisbury off Tiah’s Cove Road a little before noon, on a day following a southerly storm. The mission was to map a new trail on the 56-acre property.

Seidel rigged her Global Positioning System (GPS). The antenna to the GPS went into a pocket on the top of her cap in order to receive the best satellite signals. The GPS, which would receive and interpret the signals, she slung over her shoulder.

Tutko explained as Seidel readied her equipment that TrailsMV, the popular hiking and walking smartphone application, adopted the same computer mapping platform as the MVC. Called ArcGIS, she said, the platform essentially allows the two organizations’ technology to talk to each other. Once Seidel had completed her mapping work, the new trail would appear automatically on TrailsMV.

The objective of the day was promising. The GPS had reception, Seidel said, from 22 available satellites of about 32 in the sky overhead. Seidel set the location accuracy to 6½ feet. We would only go as fast as the GPS signal reception allowed.

Simply put, Seidel said, we would follow the bouncing ball.

We started at the trailhead. We made our way through light woods and along some farmland. In a short distance, we arrived at the new trail. A shining wood sign marked the location. The bouncing ball took a right.

The trail began flat and wooded, like much of the existing Short Cove trail. Seidel led the way and set the pace. Tutko stooped to clear fallen branches from the trail as we went. She shared some of the history of TrailsMV.

A few folks, years ago, found themselves lost on a SMF property, and had the idea of a smartphone Island trails application. The idea burgeoned to include all Island conservation properties — most notably those of the Land Bank. With a lot of hard work from a lot of folks, TrailsMV came to fruition.

Soon we were in new terrain. The trail dipped and turned in an interesting way. The ball bounced up the twisting slope of a small hill. Some sort of wetlands — possibly the end of Pear Tree Cove — was down in a ravine.

We came out onto a field trail. The clear day was perfect for mapping. The location accuracy, though set at a maximum of 6½ feet, was accurate to only seven inches. The speed of the reception of satellite signals had not slowed us at all.

Flat Point Farm was to our right side. Sheep and a few cows were grazing in a pasture. Unfortunately, Tutko had to turn back here, as she had a prior engagement. Seidel and I continued.

We came to the end of the new trail in no time. Seidel showed me the thick white line of the new trail on an app on her phone. She scrolled down and ticked off answers to a variety of questions. The app allowed her to record additional information, such as the botany of the trail.

It would go like this, according to Seidel. She would push the GPS field-collected data from the app on her phone to the ArcGIS cloud. Then she would clean the “trail lines,” using ArcPro desktop software. Once this was done, she would upload the edited information to ArcGIS online. Voilà, the new trail would appear on the TrailsMV app (and also the Land Bank’s online map).

One could say our work was complete. But the clouds and gray drizzle of the morning were replaced with the promise of bright blue sky. The Short Cove meadow and Flat Point lay not far ahead. And, Seidel noted, a new parking lot was not yet mapped. The ball bounced South.

We chatted as we followed along. We walked the trail of the meadow. The grasses were brown and yellow. We rounded the west side. A cove was along the shore. The rippled waters sang.

We stopped at Flat Point — the southern terminus of the property. We went to the overlook. Why come this far and not take in the view? We relished the waters of Tisbury Great Pond.

We set back out. Seidel found a resting bench not yet mapped. She pinged the location with her GPS, and took a picture. The location accuracy here was a mere few inches.

The day was one to dream. The blue sky beamed with the warmth of the sun from so far away. A light breeze blew. A comforting wintry chill was in the air. What a day to be out for a walk!

Seidel found the new universal-access parking lot. (The lot is designed for greater access to the meadow and Flat Point for folks unable to walk from the beginning trailhead.) She pinged the location and took a picture.

I asked more questions as we made our way back. The Short Cove trail went from the meadow back to the easement through the woods. We chatted off-topic. The ball bounced along.



  1. Interesting… Over these last few years I have been struck with the incredible amount of signage these trails now have. I ran into Ms.Tutko a year ago and in that moment expressed my disappointment in the visage bombardment of signage while we are having a peaceful walk. Funnily, I am recently back from a visit to a smaller island, Block Island, and other than the entrance, there is not one sign on their byways. It was marvelous. They are an island and how lost can one get. Perhaps when we give ourselves all the information, there is no use of our brains to learn navigate. I am sad there are so many bouncing balls along the actual paths interrupting my peaceful walk.

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