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Students working to get Prineville on the map

Grant funds provide the dollars needed to convert paper maps to digital, a process that is made possible in part with the help of high school students and area volunteers
John Schaeffer knows more about Crook County than most folks. He's leaving no stone unturned in an effort to map every road, land parcel, street, lot and stream. It's an effort made possible with the help of Crook County High School students, as well as several other organizations _ and it's all part of his job to manage the Crook County GIS program.
   The map conversion process is funded through grants from the Department of Revenue. In June of 1999, the Oregon Legislature developed a fund for the purpose of creating a statewide tax lot digital mapping system (ORMAP).
   GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. It's the latest thing for combining data to create three dimensional computerized representations of a particular geographical locale.
   Standing over the shoulders of students concentrating on their work of converting aerial photographs of a particular locale into digital road maps, Schaeffer explained that a GIS map can contain many layers of information, depending on the data that has been put into the program.
   Each layer represents a particular theme or feature, of the map. One feature could illustrate elevation or roads in a particular area. Other features may represent bodies of water, vegetation, wildlife or even soil types in the same area.
   Each of these features can be laid one on top of another, creating a stack of information about the same geographic location. Particular features can then be turned on and off depending on what information is being accessed.
   In other words, it's a process that will eventually make sifting through a variety of different types of paper maps a thing of the past.
   Students in Mike Towne's class working to map out Crook County roads have begun their second year as partners in the project. Several hundred student hours have already been devoted to putting the program together. Schaeffer explained that the next segment of the project will be adding specific land parcels.
   Even without being fully complete, the information is fast becoming a valuable resource for the police and fire departments.
   The GIS system will not only save hours of time and effort, the information available will be more accurate and up-to-date.
   "For instance," Schaeffer explained, "... if you request a zone change and need to identify your neighbors for 500 feet from a particular location, right now, you have to go down to the county office and flip through a bunch of maps to determine where the tax lot is. Then you estimate where 500 feet would be, and you try to figure out what tax lots are next to you using that and other maps.
   "Then you take a trip down the hall and try to correlate that information with actual owners and current addresses to determine whom you need to notify, and so on."
   With GIS, all of the information is tied together so that all a person has to do is access the program and type in a request. With little effort, up pops a visual map of the location along with all of the pertinent information, all in a matter of minutes.
   The computer programs will eventually be made available via the Internet, or on a network, so that virtually anyone needing to find information concerning a geographical location will be able to access that information quickly.
   "They're already using this for police dispatch. And the fire department is using it to map out where fire hydrants are located," Schaeffer explained. "We're also working with the building department so that when someone files a building permit or wants to put in a new subdivision they can use these tools to keep the information consistent."
   In addition to the school district, a number of other organizations are working to pull information together for the program. In some aspects, Crook County is actually ahead of neighboring communities.
   "Right now the roads are 90 to 95 percent done," Schaeffer said. "Anything that can be mapped, we are working to map it. Everyone's working on different pieces, and I'm responsible for pulling it all together."
   For more information about the GIS map conversion process contact Juniper GIS Services at 389-6225 or visit www.ormap.org.