Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BWCA/Quetico Lake Database

I recently added a BWCA/Quetico Lake Database similar to the campsite database. Lakes around the BWCA and Quetico are also included. You can filter the lakes by location (Minnesota or Ontario), acres, number of campsites, whether there are trip reports associated with it, and by fish species present in the lake. Each lake has a link to a page with more details about the lake, including trip reports, campsites, portages, fish surveys, and lake contour maps (if available).

The acres for each lake are calculated based on the data that I have and do not represent official values given by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

The number of campsites, at the moment, includes both open and closed campsites. In the filter, I didn't specify between the two types.

For Minnesota lakes, the fish species filter is based on the fish surveys done by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. I obtained the data from the LakeFinder. For Ontario lakes, I obtained the data from the fish species atlases from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. For all fish data presented, just because a fish isn't listed does not mean it is not present in the lake. This is especially true for the Ontario data. I have noticed that there are many lakes where smallmouth bass are listed but I know for a fact that they are present in the lake. In the future, I will add a feature where users of the website can "add a fish" to a lake if they know the fish is there.

If you check more than one fish, it will search for lakes that have any of the checked fish, not all of them. I will work on having the all as an option.

I obtained the lake contour maps from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. I modified the images to fit over the maps the best that I could. I generally have started at the largest lakes and have been working down to the smallest. If there is contour map you would like to see on the website, email me with your request, and I will work on getting it as soon as possible. Even though this website is noncommercial, I have complied with the DNR's commercial use policy just in case (see the bottom of the LakeFinder page).

Monday, January 21, 2013

More Updates to RouteFinder and Interactive Map

I finished the updates I was planning on making to the RouteFinder. (The first round of changes is found in this post.) Here is a summary of the changes:
  • Can now access your saved routes from My MNC under My Saved Routes. This is where you can delete the route. You can't change any routes here. If you want to make a change, you have to delete it and save another on the interactive map.
  • From My Saved Routes you can get a link you can send in an email or post on a blog. This "public link" will automatically load the route along with the summary information (distance and time). There will also be a link to the interactive map. This "public link" doesn't have a fully interactive map. However, you may want to use this since it is a slightly different display option than the interactive map.
  • On the interactive map, you can now get a link to the map that automatically loads the RouteFinder information. If there is a route showing when you press the Link to Map button, the link will include the route information. If you post this link, anyone following it will have your route automatically load the route. This is a change from the past - previously, the link would show the map exactly as it was except for the route information.
As always, if you have questions, suggestions, or comments, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Plan for Trip Planning Application

One of my original purposes in starting MN Canoeing.com was to help people plan canoe trips to the BWCA and Quetico. A lot of the tools that I have created (such as the interactive map, campsite database, and RouteFinder application) are resources that people can use to plan trips. Each of these tools, though, is part of a much grander plan that I have for a trip planning application. Each of these tools will be integrated into an application that will help you plan your trips from beginning to end.

Features that I have in mind:
  • Planning checklist - check off each step of the planning process
  • Selecting an outfitter (if desired) - will have contact information for various outfitters
  • Customizable gear lists - will have a default list that can be customized to your needs
  • Customizable food lists, including calculating amounts needed
  • Choosing a route - using the RouteFinder, campsite database, and other tools
  • Information on what maps to buy for your selected route
  • Information on campsites in the area
  • Information on lakes you plan on going through, including lake depth maps and fishing information if available
  • Print all trip plan information with the click of a button
  • Ability to share your trip plan with others
  • Have the trip plan linked to your trip report after it is written
  • Input food consumption data after the trip to help plan future trips
Are there any features you would like to see? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Change to Advertisements on MN Canoeing.com

I changed what ads appear on the site. On every page there used to be an ad in the upper right hand corner. I took that off and replaced it with a donate button. The donate button used to be at the bottom of the page, but I doubt many people actually saw it. I do not make any money from operating this site (it is a hobby), but donations to help offset the operating costs are very much appreciated.

Previously, I had the ads on the site to encourage people to register (since I never was going to make money off of them anyway). The ads would disappear if you were signed in. I kept the advertisements on the interactive map for this purpose - the ads disappear when you are signed in.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Updates to RouteFinder

On the BWCA/Quetico interactive map, I created what I call the RouteFinder. This is a tool that you can use to find the shortest distance between any two or more campsites, portages, and/or entry points in the Boundary Waters. (I am working on adding the Quetico at the moment.) This is a really unique tool, and I invite you to try it out. The RouteFinder has been on the website for awhile, but today I added some updates.

Example of Using the BWCA RouteFinder
Example of Using the BWCA RouteFinder

Updates to the RouteFinder:
  • Ability to download a GPX file to upload to a GPS
    • The link will appear on the summary screen after the route is done calculating.
    • The GPX file will contain the route and the nearby campsites and entry points.
    • You can also view the GPX file in programs such as Garmin's MapSource. (I only tested the file with MapSource, so it may or may not work with other programs.)
  • Adding a location to the RouteFinder from the popup window on the map
    • Previously, you could add a location to your route only by right-clicking on the location. For touchscreen or one-button-mouse users, this made it virtually unusable. I added a link to the popup window so anyone should be able to use the RouteFinder.
  • Saving your default settings
    • You can change the settings (paddling speed, portaging trips, calculation accuracy, etc.) for the RouteFinder on the settings tab.
    • Previously, you had to change the settings whenever you visited the site (some standard defaults always appeared). Now you can change the settings, press the Save Settings button, and the applicable settings will always be loaded when you visit the site.
    • To change back to the original defaults, press the  Reset Settings button. This will delete the saved settings. This won't change the settings immediately - the original default settings will be loaded the next time you reload the page.
  • Ability to save a route
    • This was a requested feature. After calculating a route, you can now save the route (locations and settings) if you are registered and signed in.
    • To save a route, calculate the route with the desired settings. On the summary screen, press the Save Route button. Type a description in the box that pops up and press OK. The screen will flash briefly, and then a message will pop up saying that the route was saved.
    • To load a saved route, go to the To/From tab. On the right is a drop down list with your saved routes (this only appears if you are signed in). Changing the selection in the drop down box will change the locations and settings but will not calculate the route. To calculate a saved route, select the route you want to load and press Load Route.
    • For now, you cannot delete a route after saving it. I will create a tool in My MNC in the near future to be able to manage your saved routes.
  •  View printed maps covering the route
    • This tab shows which Fisher, McKenzie, and Voyageur maps cover the route. (This is a feature that I personally wanted for a long time, but I didn't have the time to put it in.)
    • Click on the map name to see the area the map covers. If you click on the red square, some maps have a link to purchase it on Amazon.
    • To make the red square disappear, click on the Hide Maps button.
    • Please keep in mind - The map boundaries shown are approximate representations of the actual area the maps cover. I put in all of the boundaries manually, so there will be mistakes.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to contact me. I would love to hear how you are using the map and the website, what features you would like to see, and how it has helped you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Error on Map Fixed

There was a slight hiccup on the interactive map today from about 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM where the campsites and portages wouldn't load if you zoomed in. It has now been fixed. Sorry for any inconvenience this caused.

For our "one-button-mouse" friends, I added a link to the campsite, portage, and entry point windows that will allow you to use the route finder. Previously, this was only available from a "right-click" menu, which could not be accessed if you had a one-button mouse. (The error this morning happened when I misspelled something in the website's code when I was fixing this problem.)

BWCA/Quetico Campsite Database

The most recent addition to the website is the BWCA/Quetico Campsite Database, which went live yesterday. This has a list of all of the BWCA and Quetico campsites that I have information on. Each campsite has a link to more detailed information. If you are signed in, the table will also have a column for your rating of the campsite. The database can be filtered and/or sorted to narrow down your selection to a specific lake, status, rating, etc.

You can also see the campsites that you have rated under My Campsite Ratings in the My MNC section.

Portage and lake databases will be coming soon. These will look similar to the campsite database. Please feel free to contact me with any suggestions you may have.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BWCA/Quetico Route Planning

I have been reading the article in the Boundary Waters Journal titled Water, Water Everywhere - But Where to Go?, which is the "collective wisdom" article in this issue. The article is mostly about how the authors choose a route for a canoe trip. Since the article is over 30 pages long, I haven't been able to read all of it yet, but it did get me thinking about how I plan my own route.

There is already a page on the MN Canoeing website devoted to route planning. On that page, I listed 8 questions that you should think about when planning where to go. In this blog post, I will talk about how I answer the questions when I plan my own route.

How far do I want to paddle?
If I am base camping (which is usually the case), the time spent paddling depends on the length of the trip and the season. The longer the trip, the more time I will spend getting to where I plan to stay. The longer hours in June/July also allow more time spent paddling. If I am planning a trip lasting a week or longer, I will spend an entire day (maybe two) paddling to the camp. In the long June/July daylight hours, I won't hesitate to spend 8-10 hours paddling on those days. For a simple weekend trip, however, I want to allow ample time to relax in camp. We will paddle 4-5 hours and then set up camp. We leave at sunrise Monday morning to head back to the landing.

If I am moving every day, I plan for four hours (or less) of paddling. This gives the group enough time to set up camp at the new site and enjoy the afternoon. I usually base camp, but in certain situations I will plan on moving periodically. I am a scoutmaster, and if I am planning a trip for my Boy Scout troop, then I will plan on moving every day. I will also consider this if I am with a group that doesn't get to come to the BWCA very often. I want to give them the experience of seeing as much of that gorgeous country as they can.

The paddling time I plan for, of course, depends on the group. When I take trips with young children, I only plan to paddle an hour or two. My wife and I will be taking our son, Weston, on his first canoe trip this next year. He is turning four years old in August. We want him to have a great first experience, so we are going to be flexible and not push hard. We will probably only be paddling two hours at most.

How do I know how long it will take me to paddle to a certain place? I use the RouteFinder on the BWCA/Quetico interactive map. I change the settings to match how I typically paddle and portage. (Not everybody's setting will be the same - I know what mine should be through experience.) Before I created the RouteFinder, this process would take at least one hour for each route I was looking at. Now it only takes a few seconds. At the moment, the RouteFinder only works for the BWCA, not the Quetico. I am about 25% done with creating the Quetico routes and will release it when I am finished.

On the return trip, the travel time is usually reduced by a full 25%. I use the RouteFinder to figure out how long it should take to get to our destination and then take a quarter of that off for the return trip. We normally both paddle and portage faster on the return trip. I'm not sure why, but the 25% has been a very consistent figure for me.

As always, safety comes first. If the weather doesn't cooperate or other concerns arise, the plan will be modified or thrown away completely. I know I cannot depend on the estimates I made before the trip. The situation on the water always prevails. I have to be willing to be flexible.

Do I want to do a loop or come out the same way I came in?
Because I usually only take one car, I have never been able to do a loop. I always have come out at the same entry point I started at.

What do I want to see?
My life-long goal is to do a canoe trip out of every entry point in the BWCA. My answer to this question, then, would be that I want to see a little bit of everything. I really like seeing waterfalls. My wife really likes to hike to tops of hills and see the views. We do not plan our trips around seeing pictographs, but if I know there is one on the way or close by, I will go and see it.

Because of my work on the website, I also try to visit as many campsites as I can to rate them. Rating all the campsites on a particular lake is usually a major goal of my trip. My beautiful paddling partner (my wife) is supportive of this.

Do I want solitude?
Solitude is plays a major part in deciding where I want to go. On the route planning page, I give three tips for finding solitude: go a long ways in, do at least one long portage, and find a secluded campsite (even on a busy lake). I use all three methods to find solitude. Sometimes I use just one of the methods on a trip, sometimes all three.

I will add one more tip to the list - plan a trip in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). In the spring and fall, I like to go to the "busy" lakes that I normally wouldn't go to in the summer because they are too crowded for my taste. I like to take a trip right after the ice gets off the lakes in the spring. There typically are not a lot of people going then, so I will go to the more popular lakes. We have gone to Knife Lake (through the Moose Lake entry point) and Lac La Croix (through the Moose River North entry point) in the spring and saw only one or two other canoes the entire trip.

What kind of campsite(s) am I looking for?
I usually want to stay at campsites that are at least "3 stars" (out of five). I do research on campsites using three different websites: MN Canoeing.com (of course), BWCA.com, and the PCD (for Quetico trips).

Not getting a great campsite isn't a deal-breaker, though. Neither is not finding campsite information on any of campsites. On those trips, I have a lot of fun exploring an area that I know little or nothing about.

How important is fishing?
Outside of canoe country, I am not a big fisherman. I am also not very good at it. Despite this, fishing is one aspect of my canoe trips that I really enjoy. I always plan on fishing. On my spring trips before fishing opener, I go to the Canadian border lakes, which have different fishing regulations and seasons, so I can still fish.

This is not to say that lousy fishing equals a lousy trip. I enjoy all parts of canoeing, not just the fishing. I have had great trips where I never landed a single fish. Put a different way, I would say I like having the option of going fishing, even if I never do or the fishing is just bad.

How many portages and how long should they be?
I usually plan my routes based on total time and don't consider the difference between paddling and portaging time. To me, four hours spent traveling is the same whether it is portaging or paddling. That being said, long portages make me stop and think. If the portage in question is between one-half and one mile (160-320 rods), I won't hesitate on doing it, but I will plan so we don't have to double portage. Anything over one mile (320 rods) makes me pause and think about whether we want to go that way or if there is a way around it.

The group I am going to be with, of course, does influence the decision of whether to portage or not. Some groups require "special consideration" when thinking about portaging.

How far do I want to drive?
I live almost directly west of the Boundary Waters. It takes about 5 hours to get to Ely and 10 hours to get to the Gunflint Trail. That five hours in driving time makes a big difference in where I am planning on going. Because of this, most of my trips have been out of the Ely area. If I only took one trip a year, the driving distance wouldn't be as much of a factor, but since I take several trips every year, it is something I think about.