Trail Planning Using Topographic Quadrangle Maps

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Blog, She Wrote Trail Planning Using Topographic Quadrangle Maps

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This year our high schoolers are taking Earth Science. Typically, earth science is a middle school course, but in NY it’s a high school requirement. So, I set out to find some high school level earth science activities. I came across a NY website for science teachers and modified an activity to suit our needs. Our kids enjoyed Trail Planning Using Topographic Quandrangle Maps.

Topographic Maps in Geography & Earth Science

Topographical maps are useful in both geography and earth science. Typically, in earth science students learn to work with and make their own topo maps while in geography students spend time interpreting the topo maps. In NorthStar Geography by Bright Ideas Press, topographical maps are in lesson five on topography. In addition to the activities found there, the USGS site has some challenging exercises for topographers.

What Is a USGS Quadrangle Map?

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) makes maps available on their website. The USGS is a science organization which provides information on the health of our ecosystems and environment along with information on natural hazards and our natural resources. They are also in the business of cartography (map making). Quadrangle maps are available for free download from the USGS.

  • Shows elevation and other features of the land
  • Historic topo maps can show physical and cultural features of an area at a certain point in time- you can see how an area looked before development
  • Used by recreationists- great for hikers & cross country skiers
  • Helpful when you are looking to by land for building or buying a home- gives a good idea of drainage and don’t forget to visit when it rains!
Blog, She Wrote Trail Planning Using Topographic Quandrant Maps

Trail Building with a USGS Quadrangle Map Reference

The task was to plan a new recreational trail within the area of the quadrangle map using a few criteria:

  • Must be easily accessible from the road & include parking
  • Four different habitats must be present along the trail
  • Establish two new trails
  • Include a picnic area
  • Beginner Trails- are defined by a distance less than 5 miles, looped trail, no gradients larger than 150 ft per mile
  • Advanced Trails- are defined by a distance 5-10 miles long, begin and end at a park access road, no gradients larger than 500 ft per mile
  • Turn in a hand drawn map of the trail and surrounding area with labels
  • Include a data sheet with a key listing out the criteria met on the map

Some of the challenges include interpreting the quadrangle map and following the guidelines to complete the task within the parameters. The results of this assignment were delightful!

Teaching Geography with Earth Science

We’ve been working with maps a lot this year. Here are a few related posts:

Maps are fun for our family and topographic maps add a special challenge to map adventures. Find yours with your kids today!

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