National Park Service: Whitman Mission Historical Site
Global Positioning System Internship

Goals and Objectives

* To become familiar with the Whitman Mission’s new GPS equipment
* To learn how to use the ArcPad mapping program
* To learn how to transfer the Whitman Mission data to the Whitman College Geology computer lab
* To learn how to use ArcView mapping program
* To map assigned components of the Whitman Mission (vegetation, potential fire transects, accuracy of published park maps) using GPS coordinates and mapping software
* To be proactive throughout the whole semester
* To meet with Roger Trick each week

Reflections

This internship was divided into two parts. First was the learning component associated with the Whitman Mission’s new GPS equipment and mapping software. Second was the application of the GPS equipment within the park. The transition between these two components seemed to be a little after the halfway mark over the course of the semester.

Prior to this internship, I had never used GPS equipment, however, I initially thought that learning how to use the equipment would be fairly easy. I assumed that the GPS equipment and software would be stable and intuitive. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The Whitman Mission recently acquired a Hollux Bluetooth GR-230 GPS receiver and a Bluetooth-compatible Dell Axim Pocket PC fitted with the latest version of ArcPad mapping software. Throughout the semester, there were times when the GPS receiver would not synchronize with the Pocket PC. There were times when pressing the same button twice would not always perform the same action twice. There were times when the pictures and text on the screen would mysteriously vanish. There were times when the data was captured in the Pocket PC screen, but would not show up in the data file – even after it was saved. And to top it off, there were times when I would complete the mapping out in the field, and then have the Pocket PC suddenly freeze, requiring the PC to be restarted, and losing the whole mapping project, causing the route to be re-walked.

In the last few weeks of my internship, however, everything started coming together. I mapped various aspects of the park such as the perimeter of a controlled burn on the park property, the projected path of a newly-built stream, a tourist walking path, and outlines of the bases of historical buildings. One of the most beneficial things that I did in the second to last week was help write directions for creating new maps and layers with the GPS equipment for the park employees who will be using GPS, but have no prior GPS experience. The employees will be able to use these directions rather than attempt to decipher the manual.

The person I worked with most closely at the park was Roger Trick. Like me, he had no prior GPS experience, and everything that we learned, we learned together. After my internship, Roger will be teaching other employees how to use the equipment. It took us a long time to figure out how to do mapping and recording. ArcPad is inherently a complex and complex and incoherent program, so it took some getting used to. There were times when Roger and I had to walk the same encircling path three times in a row because we missed miniscule steps within a sub-menu feature button, which had big mapping consequences.

I have a lot of respect for Roger, and I am amazed at all of the roles he fills at the park. He began working at the Whitman Mission in 1983 (before I was born!). Usually at National Park Service parks, the Resource Management is divided into two categories: Natural Resources and Cultural Resources. Because of the small size of the Whitman Mission, Roger takes on both roles. He oversees the encouragement of native grass growth, as well as the management of nonnative weeds. Roger oversees pest control, including trapping mice. He also monitors the oxygen and pH levels in the bodies of water on the park. Additionally, Roger catalogs artifacts from the site and makes sure that they are all properly stored. All of the artifacts are stored in a room with an independent temperature and humidity control system. Preserving artifacts is nothing new for Roger; he received a BA and MA in Anthropology and Archeology. On top of these time-consuming tasks, Roger additionally handles the financial end of park as well. He oversees wages, and how the park spends its money. He told me that it is really tough to work in a highly bureaucratic system such as the Park Service because he fills out budget proposals 2 to 5 years in advance. For example, in 2003 the park submitted a proposal regarding Doan Creek, and the project finally began in 2005. Lastly, Roger is in charge of the GPS equipment, including learning how to use it, and implementing it out in the field. My internship was created to learn how to use the GPS equipment alongside Roger. During my time at the park, I concluded that I am not very interested in working for the Park Service. It seems extremely structured and bureaucratic. Everyone has an assigned role, and they have to do everything in a proper, pre-arranged way. For example, Roger could not leave his office to go outside unless he wore a Park Service hat. The employees have specified uniforms that they must wear every day on the job. I do not think this structure is compatible with my ideal professional setting.

Logistics

Each Friday I drove a total of 18 miles to and from the Whitman Mission site, and I find this particularly remarkable, as I do not own a car. I am very grateful for the availability of a Whitman vehicle provided by the Whitman Physical Plant and the Environmental Studies Department. I simply went to the Physical Plant, received by keys to the “Beige Taurus,” and drove to my internship site. The Physical Plant even provided a cellular phone just in case something happened to me while in the car. This type of service would be unheard of it I attended a large state school.

I am also extremely impressed by the prompt communications of both Roger Trick and Amy Molitor. From previous experiences, I know first-hand how communications (or lack thereof) can make or break a long-term project. If I ever emailed Roger or Amy, I always received an email within one day. I consider this a very high degree of professionalism and commitment.

Time Commitment

This internship worked out to be just the right amount of time for my schedule. I am taking 21 credits this semester, and trying to find a free multi-hour chunk of time during the week was nearly unfathomable, but I did have room in my Friday mornings. Roger also had a few hours available on Friday mornings, and we allotted from around 9am to 12:15pm for the internship. I was very lucky that Roger had this time slot available.

Experience and Learning

While the majority of this internship had a fairly slow rate of progress despite weekly meetings, I am not in the least bit disappointed. In fact, over time I gained a better understanding of my role in this internship. At first I thought that this was going to be an independent internship, but it shifted into a mentoring situation. Although, this was a fairly nontraditional mentoring internship in that I was mentoring my “mentor.” Because Roger and I were learning the same information and I tended to learn the information more quickly, I slowly began showing him different ways to perform various tasks on the Pocket PC than listed in the painstaking manual. Progress notwithstanding, from this internship I have taken with me the mentoring skills and value of patience.

I have also learned a great deal about GPS mapping and ArcPad software. Coming into this internship I knew absolutely nothing, but I can now create new maps, create new layers, and add multiple features to the maps. There are many more advanced tools and applications available in the ArcPad software, but as much as I would like to read the entire 300+ page poorly-organized manual, Roger and I learned how to perform the functions essential to the Whitman Mission’s mapping success.

Besides learning just the practical equipment uses, I learned some GPS theory. There are currently 31 GPS satellites orbiting earth. The satellites have six orbital planes, and each are equally spaced about 60 degrees from each other. The orbital path is such that it passes over the same point 4 minutes earlier each day. Additionally, GPS accuracy varies with the time of day because of the positions of “visible” satellites. In my last few weeks of my internship, I discovered a program that displays the Delusion of Precision (DOP) – the amount of satellite accuracy on an Earth location at any given time. Roger and I learned that the DOP is highest between 9am and 10am - the same time that we usually go outside to do our mapping.

Tangible Final Products:

* Created maps with layers representing areas outlined and logged on the Whitman Mission site.
* Created instructional documentation for park employees that will soon implement GPS mapping in their daily routines around the park.

Problems

One problem that I encountered was the lack of compatibility of some ArcPad files with the ArcView software. Both programs use different file extensions. There is a way to convert ArcPad files to ArcView files, and Roger’s computer seemed to do this just fine, but the files did not work on ArcGIS in the Whitman Geology Department computer lab. It could possibly because Roger had ArcPad on both his computer and on the Dell Axim Pocket PC.

Another problem, that did not get resolved until the very last week, was a compatibility issue between all of the maps and layers that were created over the course of the semester. All of the layers had different projections, meaning that they all plotted in different places because of a discrepancy of coordinates. This problem was fixed when all of our files were sent to a woman named Leona Svancara. Leona is a Spatial Ecologist and Data Manager for the National Park Service’s Upper Columbia Basin Network, and she also works in a Landscape Dynamics lab at the University of Idaho. She gave all of the layers the same projections, so they could all plot with each other, and it made a HUGE difference. It was really amazing to see the paths that we walked and logged on the Pocket PC show up on the image file of the park land. The projections and headings are now correct within the ArcPad software, so future maps and layers will all be compatible with one another.

Recommendations for the Future

Now that all of the future maps will have the same projections, mapping will be extremely easy. I am actually jealous of the next person doing this internship. They will be able to focus more on ArcPad tools and techniques rather than trying to get the Pocket PC to talk to the GPS receiver and have hardware problems. If I could, I would continue the internship next semester, but I will be too busy with other classes to keep the internship in my schedule. I highly recommend this internship for an introduction to GPS and GPS mapping, using software that professionals use in the field. One thing that might be beneficial for the next intern would be to continue looking at the compatibility issue between files created at the park and the computers in the Whitman Geology computer lab.

Key Contacts

Roger Trick, Whitman Mission Historical Site
Amy Molitor, Whitman College
Leona Svancara, University of Idaho

Resources

ArcPad FAQs. International Clinical Studies Support Center. <http://icssc.org/ArcPad_FAQ.htm>.

ArcPad Support Forum. < http://forums.esri.com/forums.asp?c=34>.