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Nature shines on Web
SCOBEL WIGGINS

OSU's new Oregon Explorer site shows state's resources

By JENNIFER NITSON

Gazette-Times reporter

"Oh! That's so cool," was the repeated refrain at the Oregon State University Valley Library during Thursday's public launching of "Oregon Explorer," OSU's new digital library of the state's natural resources.

Zooming in on a 3-D map showing water-restoration projects near Philomath, people in the audience were riveted as they virtually explored their own backyard.

Do you want to install a boat dock along the Willamette? Are you looking to restore wildlife habitat in your own backyard? How many Measure 37 claims have been filed in your county?

Information and answers on these topics and much more can be found at www.oregonexplorer.info, developed in collaboration between OSU libraries and the state university system's Institute for Natural Resources.

"It is very difficult for Oregonians to find information they want about their natural resources," said Gail Achterman,

director of the institute.

To answer just one question about habitat restoration, a person can end up contacting multiple state agencies - the departments of Fish and Wildlife, Water Resources, State Lands, and Parks and Recreation, for example, and the list can get long.

"If you're just someone that wants to know about a place, it's tough, and people get frustrated," Achterman said.

"Oregon Explorer" features a wealth of information and documents from numerous state agencies, the university's own archives and other sources from around the state.

With "Oregon Explorer," users can search for information by county, watershed or ecological region. The site features educational essays on regional animals and plants, geology and geography, land use and the impact of people on the land. Graphs and charts, photos, video and audio components and contact information for regional experts enhance the offerings.

A favorite feature of "Oregon Explorer" among Beta-testers is the maps and mapping tools.

Ready-made maps include maps of salmon runs, flood plains and zoning.

Basic map-making tools offer a few simple options for users. Pick from a list of what to map, type in the name of a city, county, landmark or region and, presto, you have a map.

Advanced map-making tools include more than 50 data layers that can be used.

Using Microsoft's "Virtual Earth," the site also features 3-D maps, with which users can zoom in close over roads, rivers and fields, and virtually fly up ravines and over hills in exploration.

"Oregon Explorer" is still in development. Much information has yet to be added and will continue to be added as the land and conditions change in the future.

Users will also have the chance to publish and archive documents, photos and information with "Oregon Explorer."

This feature will present what Achterman calls the "Wikipedia problem," one of accuracy and quality control in public Internet postings.

One way the site will address this is a detailed labeling system so water-quality tests posted by an Oregon high school science class will not be confused, for example, with one published by the the Department of Environmental Quality, Achterman explained.

At least a half-dozen OSU professors are using the Web site as a teaching tool, said "Oregon Explorer" program director Janine Salwasser.

"I do not know of any other site that integrates stories and repositories with mapmaking and access to people," Salwasser said.

Patti Ball, who teaches a blended third- through fifth-grade class at Lincoln School, attended the unveiling of "Oregon Explorer" and was inspired by what she saw.

Her students will be studying mountains next year and she plans to use the site's geology and geography components in her lessons.

"Before we go on a field trip, we could actually map it with the kids," Ball said.

Instead of teaching contour mapping with a map of Mount Shasta, as has been done at the school in the past, with "Oregon Explorer" Ball can help students make contour maps of local geographical features, she said.

"You can do it right here in your own backyard," she said.

Ball was excited about the ability to answer a myriad of student questions quickly and easily with the site, and the prospect of students publishing at the site.

As part of a wildlife-stewards curriculum, students at Lincoln have planted endangered species around the valley and have monitored the plants' progress.

"The kids can take their data and put it in," Ball said. "It gives kids more of a value because they have an audience and see that they are contributing."

This validates the children's work and gives them an increased sense of citizenship, she said.

"I think that's where we need to go with kids in education, so they can see that it's relevant."

On the net

Check out OSU's "Oregon Explorer" at www.oregonexplorer.info

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