Collecting Data in National Forest Lands

I’ve been spending time exploring the Old Maid Flat area on the western side of Mt. Hood as part of a project for PCC's GIS Certificate Program, exploring the use of ESRI’s FieldMaps app for collecting and utilizing GPS data. The app premiered as an evolution of their field applications and web mapping integration prospects just a year ago. It allows users to design feature classes (categories) for collecting data with specified schema and attributes that focuses and streamlines data collection in the field. There’s a lot of potential here for amassing useful data, and those in the field using the app need not have an understanding of how the maps were set up to simply add points into the system using a modern cellphone. One of the items I focused on collecting data for with this project was Information signs and displays- trail signs, wilderness signs, use signs, interpretive displays, etc. The app allowed me to easily capture the location, condition, and most importantly, a photo of these pieces of infrastructure that, especially in more remote trails, are often in need of attention. When the data syncs to online, then all of those locations, photos and information is instantly viewable in ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Pro. With that it’d be straightforward to create heatmaps and prioritize areas most in need of improvements. The same system could be used to identify trail structures or sections in need of repair or maintenance or collect data to prioritize and plan logouts, or even simplified by utilizing the ESRI QuickCapture app which can streamline some of the data collection.


Old Maid Flat

This wide flat area through which the Sandy River flows down below Yocum Ridge toward the confluence with the Zigzag River is a basin that has been filled by successive flows of pyroclastic debris brought down in lahars from Mt. Hood. The most recent eruptive period that shaped it’s modern landscape, the Old Maid Eruptive period, was only around 250 years ago, a mere blink of an eye, geologically speaking. The channel of Lost Creek, cutting through these deposits has revealed the still standing trunks of trees from the forest that was buried in the debris flows. These are best viewed at the Lost Creek Nature Trail No. 776 where the trail leads to a platform on the river right near a collection of these exposed artifacts. Explorers keeping an eye out exploring around the creek further along its course can find others, as well as additional forest debris sticking out of the banks.


Recreational Opportunities

The landscape is unique to the area, especially at the low 2000 foot elevation, where the coarse sandy soils encourage the grown of slow growing lodgepole pines and an undulating, terrain where rocky debris is covered in vibrant, thriving mosses and lichens. Recreationally, the area offers three campgrounds and numerous trailheads offering access to the wilderness for hikers and horseback riders. Named for Fred McNeil, explorer and visionary of the mountain, newsman and author of Wy’east, ‘The Mountain (later re-published as McNeil’s Mount Hood), McNeil Campground is primitive vehicle campground. Riley Horse Camp has large sites, many of which have corrals for horses, and is surrounded by many paths for riding and exploring. Lost Creek Campground and Day Use Area is a unique site in that it has been constructed as barrier free with asphalt and graveled pathways offering enhanced access to its facilities. There is a loop of vehicle sites and 5 walk in sites available.

The Ramona Falls Trailhead is the launching point for visitors to the waterfall, one of the most popular destinations around the mountain. The Cast Creek Trail No. 773, Horseshoe Ridge Trail No. 774, and Burnt Lake Trail No. 772 offer access into the Zigzag Mountains, Burnt Lake, Cast Lake, and extensive hiking and backpacking opportunities.


USFS Motor Vehicle Use Map 2020

Poor maps, confusion

As one of the most easily accessible areas for recreation in Mt. Hood National Forest, I felt the area could use some updated cartography. The current maps for the campgrounds could be improved and some inaccuracies removed as well. Looking through the current area maps, it’s clear that the basis for much of the data and cartography goes back to the older USGS quadrangles, and the poorly updated and improperly verified Motor Vehicle Use Map based on the USFS roads GIS data. A perfect example of the problems this can cause is a read of the USFS directions to the Ramona Falls Trailhead, which can easily see hundreds of hikers on a busy summer weekend: “Bear left at the junction onto Forest Road 1825-100 and drive 0.3 mile. Take a left onto Forest Road 1825-024 to a large open parking lot (0.2 mile) at the Ramona Falls”  While years ago 1825-100 continued straight towards the river, now that section is closed and thoroughly covered over and 1825-100 flows uninterrupted into 024 just as a bend in the road. The same overcomplication can be found on the directions to the Burnt Lake Trailhead where it is again clear that route is being described by staring at old GIS data.


User trail near Riley Horse Camp

Discovering Trails

There is also a very advanced network of trails, many following old roadways, around Riley Horse Camp that have no designations but are frequented by horseback riders and don’t appear on maps, even OpenStreetMap. All along Lost Creek is a fishing trail that in many sections is better established than many designated Forest Service Trails, and offers a thoroughly enjoyable and unique trek along the creek and the opportunity to make a loop with the Sandy River Trail No. 770. I met a hiker with his dog who said he had been hiking on this unofficial trail for the past two decades. Illustrating these very established routes helps hikers with navigation when they may come to junctions that they were not expecting. I put a lot of effort into symbolizing the road system in a way that is easily discernable and useful for visitors, as that has been one of the biggest hurdles in access I’ve noticed from looking at most modern maps. This of course leads me to having to make decisions about symbolizing road conditions, like the road leading off 1825 to the Ramona Falls Trailhead which while surfaced with asphalt, is so disintegrated in spots with massive potholes that I downgrade it to a “gravel or higher clearance recommended”


Dispersed Camp in the Wilderness

Recording Trails

In trips to the Old Maid Flat area (before the gate closed on December 1st) I extensively covered the area, recording tracks using Gaia GPS and taking point location data using FieldMaps, noting such features as backcountry or dispersed campsites, campground features, restrooms, trail and information signage, parking areas, and more.

In building my Trails database, I utilize my freshly collected tracks, combined with tracks I have collected in the past (for Horseshoe Ridge Trail for instance, I have 7 tracks along much of it to compare), and overlay them on high resolution imagery and Hillshaded Terrain processed from Bare Earth Lidar from Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI). Especially for trails with wider benches, Lidar can very exactly show their layout and is especially useful in dense forest where it strips away all vegetation to give a view of the ground surface.

Data Collected in ESRI FieldMaps


A single track overlayed on Bare Earth Lidar Hillshade 


Adjusted over OSIP 2018 Satellite Imagery


Lidar reveals trail features in dense forest

Building a more accurate roads database

Because of the wide inaccuracies of the current roads data, I also use lidar as the base to finely trace the actual locations of roadbeds, and then use observational data collected in the field to determine road conditions and actual access such as the location of gates or earthen decommissioned sections.


Roads clearly visible on Bare Earth Lidar Hillshade


Tracing Road Systems


Comparing with current Roads data Layer

Building Hydrology

While out exploring and creating tracks, one of my data points to collect are Hydrologic notes, which takes photos and descriptions of hydrology as I encounter it. This helps build up a detailed hydrology layer that is tailored to recreationists and how one may find or interact with water on the trail. Having more accurate visualization of streams or even minor water crossings of the trail can help hikers orient themselves as well as plan better for drinking water. The USGS hydrology database is so expansive and detailed of potential flowlines that it can be an overload and not reflective of what may be encountered out hiking. I use these notes, combined again with imagery and Lidar data to build up my hydrology database for the Mount Hood region.


Utilizing field notes


Building hydrology over Lidar data


Relational to hiking experiences

Building Basemaps

For the Basemap of the area I used the DOGAMI Bare Earth Lidar in conjunction with Highest hits (to visualize the canopy cover), generated hill shaded layers and proceed with layering, blending, and stylizing the elements. Here I felt like a color style that somewhat alluded to the early USGS maps of the 80’s, with the mildly saturated greens for forest and tans for open areas. Contour lines are based on the Bare Earth Lidar data (although acquired from somewhat smoothed versions of the data because contours straight from Lidar can produce lines with a vast amount of vertices that are overly chaotic).


One facet of using Lidar data is that some of the most recent data for areas are a decade old and don't reflect the current situation on the ground. Since the remote sensing was conducted the bridge over the Sandy was replaced and rerouted, which necessitated me to edit the the basemap in Photoshop to reroute the bridge and better reflect the current environment


Roads overlayed on basemap, the old bridge clear to the north of the Sandy crossing


2018 OSIP Satellite Imagery showing current bridge


Basemap after Photoshop edits


I brought in the USFS Wilderness boundary, which studying for the area, I had not realize extended so far out. There are quite a few spots where there are pullouts for long established roadside dispersed camping where you would be nearly setting your tent up in the Wilderness Area as it is so close to the road.


Bringing it all together

I built a large format display for the map that echoes the current themes used by the Forest Service in their most modern interpretive displays in the area, highlighting the recreational opportunities and some of the geology of the location. For each of the campgrounds I produced informational maps highlighting the camp spots and amenities.

An interpretive display for the Old Maid Flat area

Map Details


Campground Maps

Using GPS data collected with Field Maps I constructed more accurate and up to date maps of the campgrounds.

McNeil Campground map
Riley Horse Camp area map
An overview of the Lost Creek Campground and Day Use Area

Exploring Old Maid Flat


More Adventures

More Adventures

Changing Seasons on Mount Hood


Utilizing Lidar in Mapping Trails


Chehalem Ridge Nature Park


Cartography at Old Maid Flat


A Lookout Mountain Night


Coe Glacier as Winter Draws Near


Stadter Buried Forest


To White River Glacier


Wandering White River


Ho Rock and Snow