Trail Maps with OpenStreetMap

Making maps is a lot of work! Conservation groups often struggle sharing trail maps with the public. The maps need to be created for many media: paper, Internet, and mobile, they need to be kept up to date, and are often created using specialized software.

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a non-profit collaborative project to create a free, editable map of the entire world. It is like Wikipedia for maps, with over 30,000 members every month logging in and editing the OpenStreetMap map. The data is freely shared via Open Data Commons Open Database License and not owned by a for profit entity.

The maps can be edited directly on the OpenStreetMap site. The people that know the trails and properties the best can make the maps themselves. The OpenStreetMap (OSM) project effortlessly backs up, hosts, and distributes your trail data to the multitude of map makers for free.

Editing OpenStreetMap

For people new to computer maps they often expect that map making is similar to a drawing application, like Adobe Photoshop, or even MS-Paint. However digital map making is actually two steps, first the essential map data is collected and entered. For example, if you want to map a path. You would first enter the path location as a line, and then describe the paths attributes such as: how wide is it, what the ground is like, is it private or public, what color blazes are used to mark it, who maintains it, are bikes allowed, horses, pets, is it wheelchair accessible, etc. The second step is creating the map where the map maker decides how objects are depicted. This data/map separation allows different kinds of maps to be created from the same underlying data.

OpenStreetMap uses a system of "tagging" data. To map a trail, the location of the trail is first drawn as a line, then the trail is "tagged", with the highway=path name value. An actual highway is a highway=trunk, a fire road would be highway=track. Most of the effort in using OpenStreetMap is learning this name/value tagging vocabulary to property describe the feature being mapped.

So please feel free to jump right in with a tutorial and map your local trails.

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