MIKE BRAUN Hi-tech help for outdoors lovers

Ain't technology grand?
A new Web site unveiled last week will be a welcome help for just about any possible outdoor activity.
Developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the nation's largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency, the new site offers access to an astounding array of information that will make planning an outdoors trip, event or encounter extremely easy.
Many databases: Logging on to water.usgs.gov.recreation opens up a virtual grocery story of databases in a wide range of areas.
There are clickable areas for camping, boating, fishing, climbing, hiking, nature, and hunting as well as sub-areas in each of these sections.
For example, clicking the hunting tab brings up a page with subheads called "Ducks at a Distance", explained this way: "This guide will help you recognize birds on the wing -- it emphasizes their fall and winter plumage patterns as well as size, shape, and flight characteristics. It does not include local names. Recognizing the species of ducks and geese can be rewarding to bird watchers and hunters."
Under hunting there is also an area called the Microsoft Terraserver. This sub-site literally blew me away. It is a map of the United States that is clickable. Once you point your mouse at any part of the states and click, that section of the country is highlighted. Continue to click and you start zeroing in on an actual satellite map of the region you selected. I tried it over the greater Youngstown area and got the picture so close to The Vindicator that I swear I saw my van.
Accessible: While new digitized aerial photos of the United States are loaded daily, much of the U.S. is accessible via this server. The maps are those taken over the years by satellite and can range in age from a year or two to a decade or more. The photos are all recent enough -- nothing from the 1950's or earlier.
Under hunting there was also a section called USGS Map Dealers, a list of retailers that sell USGS maps, and the National Atlas of the United States, a "complete range of traditional maps and features enabling you to create your own map to explore the great outdoors and locate access points for your hunting destinations."
The information in these USGS maps and Internet sections is gleaned as the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2,000 organizations across the country.
"This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, to contribute to the conservation and the sound economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources, and to enhance the quality of life by monitoring water, biological, energy, and mineral resources," according to information on the USGS Web site.
Much info: There is so much information here, you could very well visit it every day for, I'd guess, an entire year and still not see it all.
Aside from what I have already mentioned, there is also information on such diverse areas as current streamflow conditions across the United States, earthquake occurrence maps, landslide information, software, fact sheets and booklets and much more than I could ever list here.
This information can come in handy in almost any activity you have planned.
Looking for a nice campsite? Click on the link to your favorite lake or vacation area and take an armchair tour of what's available from a satellite's eye view.
Thinking of going fishing in a river or stream you've never been to before? Click on the link and select the specific state map -- I chose Ohio -- and click on the dot connected to the river you are seeking. I chose the Chagrin. You will get up-to-date data on depth, discharge, flow, etc.
Up-to-date: By up-to-date, I mean now. The data I selected on for the Chagrin on Saturday morning shortly before 7 a.m. showed the information was collected as of 2:30 a.m. that day. Now that's up-to-date. And these types of maps are available for virtually all of the United States.
What this Web site actually means is that any place you are thinking of going to can be checked, basically from the rocks on up, before you get there. Check it out.

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