As the director of the UTC Interdisciplinary Geospatial lab (IGT), Charlie Mix is used to analyzing situations. So he was hopeful but cautious to predict a win after entering a conservation-plan map in a competition at the Esri User Conference, one of the largest gatherings of geographic information systems professionals. When he got the word that he won third for best reference map out of nearly 1,000 other entries, he was surprised and humbled.
When he got the word that he won third for best reference map out of nearly 1,000 other entries, he was surprised and humbled.
“It makes me think that maybe I’m doing something right,” he said. “It felt good, especially for our team. We’re a midsize school competing against much bigger organizations who have so many more resources.”
Mix and his team partnered with Mainspring Conservation Trust, a land trust based in Franklin, North Carolina, that specializes in conservation and restoration projects in the western part of the state within the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River watersheds.
Using geographic information systems (GIS) technology, the UTC team was able to map Mainspring’s long-term conservation plan. GIS is an information management system that captures, analyzes and organizes geographic information on a map. Using GIS helps users more easily view, interpret and visualize large sets of data on a map.
Using data from a variety of sources such as the North Carolina Division of Water, the National Forest Service, historic Cherokee information and maps of popular hiking trails, the UTC team was able to visually map areas where Mainspring should consider focusing its conservation efforts based on the organization’s goals.
“Our map has more than 90 layers of data. Each of those was processed, analyzed and combined to create four sub-models representing Mainspring’s goals, like preserving and protecting water resources, wildlife habitats, cultural heritage sites and recreation areas,” Mix explained.
The final map is a mix of colors ranging from white to lime green to dark red with the darker colors representing an area with a high presence of Mainspring’s conservation priorities. For example, one of the dark-red areas may have wildlife habitats, historic cultural sites and water resources that the organization wants to protect. The green areas have less of those features.
Usability was important to the UTC team, so they also created an additional web tool for Mainspring’s employees.
“They have a staff of 15 people and only one GIS person. Now, they don’t have to go through that one person to get the data. Everyone has access,” Mix said.
It took the UTC team nine months to complete the project, but all their hard work was worth it to Mix.
“I grew up kayaking and riding mountain bikes in this region. So to kind of play a part in helping conserve this land, it feels really good. That’s the most important part to me,” he said.