Hunters, anglers and nature lovers who visit state-managed wildlife management areas now have a better tool to help them find their way around.
Division of Natural Resources officials have made high-quality color topographic maps available on the agency's website. The maps can be downloaded for free and printed out on laser or inkjet printers.
Walt Kordek, who heads up the DNR's wildlife diversity and tech support units, said the new maps are meant to replace what he called the "pretty poor maps" the agency had previously offered.
The new maps became possible when the DNR began doing extensive work with Geographic Information Systems data. Much of the agency's GIS work involves mapping of one sort or another.
For instance, biologists who want to establish deer-population level guidelines might study satellite-generated GIS data on forest cover and agricultural crops to determine how much food is available in a given area.
Within the past few years, DNR officials began using Global Positioning System equipment to determine the exact boundaries for many of the state's wildlife management areas.
"Before we did that, our maps were only approximations," Kordek said. "Once we started walking the boundaries and taking GPS readings, we knew exactly what we had, and we were able to fill inside those boundaries with good data."
Technicians began superimposing GIS information - contour lines, shading, exact locations of streams, roads and structures - into the areas' newly confirmed boundaries.
"We realized we could provide a valuable service by making the maps available online," Kordek said.
Visitors to the DNR's website, www.wvdnr.gov, can access the maps by going to the site's Hunting section and clicking on the "New WMA Topo Maps" link.
So far, maps are available for 23 WMAs, and Kordek expects four or five more to be added each year until the set is complete.
"Once we have all our public lands mapped, we'll probably turn around and start updating the ones we started with," he added. "It's the nature of the beast."
Downloadable maps are available in two file types: PDF and JPEG. The PDF files come in high- and medium-resolution versions, and the JPEG files are low-resolution. The website lists the file sizes for each resolution so users can choose the best one to download based on their computer equipment and Internet connection speed.
Kordek said DNR officials are excited to be able to make the new maps available in time for the 2012 hunting season, but said an "even more exciting" project is in the works.
"Sometime before June next year, we will update the interactive map we currently use to show the state's trout streams," he explained. "The software that runs the map has been updated. When we get the project finished, visitors to our website will be able to look at the state map and see boat launch sites and wildlife management areas in addition to trout streams and stocking information.
"When people click on a boat launch site, they'll be able to see how many parking slots are available there, what type of launch ramp it is, and they'll be able to get driving directions. When they click on a WMA, they'll get information about the WMA, including driving directions.
"In addition, we plan to include the locations of game-checking stations, license agents, and sites where hunters can donate deer to Hunters Helping the Hungry. It will be an outdoor recreation map designed for the public."
Kordek said a test version of the upgraded map should be up and working by March 2013, and the full-fledged version should be available by June.
Compared to the cost of publishing paper maps containing all that information, Kordek said the online versions "are dirt cheap."
"It costs money to maintain a GIS office, but when you compare the cost of putting things on the Web and publishing paper copies of everything, the Web version is pretty inexpensive," he said.
Free maps available
The DNR's new downloadable topographic maps are available for 23 wildlife management areas throughout West Virginia:
Anawalt Lake McDowell