Complementing Harvard’s Map of the Month series, each week, Map Monday highlights a data visualization that enhances understanding of or helps resolve a critical civic issue.
This week’s Map Monday is a reminder that data visualization is not only a tool to help policymakers to craft responses to pressing problems, but also a resource that can make life a little bit easier for residents.
Protecting Cook County, IL’s forests and making the county’s wildlife accessible to residents for education, pleasure, and recreation is the goal of Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC). One of the core challenges facing the organization is getting people to the county’s preserves and trails: residents may be unaware of the abundance of wildlife in the area surrounding Chicago or may be intimidated by the challenge of navigating the county’s forests.
In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, FPCC partnered with Smart Chicago to produce Forest Preserves of Cook County Web Map, a visualization that plots each of the county’s forest preserves and maps all of the trails available in each forest. Built on a MapBox platform, the visualization gathers trail data from the Cook County Open Data Portal and from FPCC. The county formatted the underlying data according to the Open Trail System Specification—a common format for public trails and related geographic information that makes this data interoperable—and then published the underlying data on GitHub to allow for reuse.
Users can visualize entrances and exits to each preserve, information on the material of each trail (e.g. paved, unpaved, or natural surface), the types of activities allowed in each area (e.g. hiking, biking, cross country skiing, and horseback riding), and the location of picnic areas. Moreover, the map provides a detailed description of each preserve, describing the terrain, recommended activities, hours of operation, and more.
Using this map, residents are able to explore the natural resources Cook County has to offer and find inspiration for their next adventure. And, visitors are able to better plan their excursions, knowing what trails to follow, what equipment to bring, and where to find many of the resources they may need during the course of their trip. By providing residents with this information, FPCC hopes to encourage more residents to visit the county’s preserves and accomplish its goal of improving environmental education and inspiring preservation efforts.
The quintessential enthusiast for the natural world, Henry David Thoureau told his contemporaries to “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” Cook County’s efforts help its residents see just how crooked and narrow its trails may be so they may walk with reverence rather than frustration and confusion.