Mapping the Patapsco

Published: Mar 7, 2003

Tom Rabenhorst’s research blends his love of nature with modern technology to provide a valuable service to the community.

Rabenhorst, Director of Instructional Cartography in UMBC’s Department of Geography and Environmental Systems, is also an avid outdoorsman. As Spring draws nearer, the hikers from UMBC and all over Maryland who flock to nearby Patapsco Valley State Park will navigate park trails using new maps developed thanks to Rabenhorst’s dedication.

Rabenhorst combined global positioning satellite (GPS) technology and sweat equity to give the park the most detailed maps in its history. Rabenhorst spent months hiking the trails on his own or with his wife while logging points on a handheld GPS device to plot out the trail maps. GPS triangulates to rapidly and accurately locate geographic positions anywhere on the face of the earth.

“There had been no comprehensive map of Patapsco, and I thought that this would be a real benefit to the community as well as a self-serving thing for myself because I really enjoy getting out in the parks,” Rabenhorst says.

“It’s a good partnership because we’re basically neighbors,” says Lt. Christopher Bushman, the park’s manager. When you are walking on the trails and when you get up on the hills, you can see the UMBC campus. The guides are one of the best things that has ever happened to the park,” Bushman says.

Each year Rabenhorst gets students in his Advanced Cartography Class involved with a local mapping project. The class has worked with many local cyclists and the Baltimore Community Foundation to produce a handy map of bike trails in the city and county, with routes color-coded based on hill steepness. Rabenhorst’s students have also worked on a CD-ROM atlas of Maryland for elementary education.


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