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GIS students gain experiences, preserve national history, serve community December 2, 2010

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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How can people take a virtual tour through an oil town that no longer exists or plan an event around amenities and park trails?

“Through Geographic Information Systems [GIS], which is like ‘Google Earth’ on Steroids,” said Margaret Teevens, Natrona County Parks.

According to CC GIS instructor Jeff Sun, clients using student-generated data on a project to help solve a problem or make a decision mean students gain real world experience.

Groups from the last three advanced GIS classes have contributed to a RMOTC Teapot Dome historic map project which covers the greater Salt Creek area. RMOTC (Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center) and Anadarko have helped the class find data about the historic communities centered on their oil fields dating back to the 1920s.

“There’s nothing left,” Eddie Hutton said of the houses, banks and general stores. Looking at an old picture of Lavoy, she noted the triangular corner restaurant resembled a miniature of New York City’s Flatiron building.

The towns are gone, but as she earns her GIS certification to further her forestry education, Hutton helped create a virtual, three-dimensional model of the town.

Making the buildings to look like they sit on the ground rather than floating above it posed one technical frustration for the class, she said. Out in the field, Hutton has learned to look for indents in the land that show where a cellar once sat.

“You can pick it up easily after a while,” Hutton said. She learned interesting facts through the project, like a house that once stood in a Canadian camp was moved to Edgerton where it remains today.

“A lot of us here at RMOTC are history buffs,” RMOTC Public Relations Program Manager Jim Nations said, “and certainly realize the importance of this greater Salt Creek area and Teapot Dome to the history of central Wyoming and to the nation’s history of oil and gas development.”

Early in the semester, the students traveled to the sites of the old towns. They walked around foundation remnants to collect building outlines with GPS (global positioning system) units which record that data, or “footprints,” Sun said.

Using a computer program, they render the data into three dimensions.

Eventually, a virtual tour or “fly through” of the area shows accurate structures and topography to scale. Students also collect historical data to add to the interactive project.

Those on a virtual tour can “fly through” the town, clicking the mouse on buildings to see photographs and read about the history.

“A lot of times the foundations weren’t still existing,” Carol McClure said, so they used historical data from RMOTC and Anadarko, who shared details like workers having to haul about 60 pounds of tools with them from site to site without vehicles.

Range Management major Dustin Williams is seeking his certification in GIS. Williams said some of the old towns no longer existing had populations about as high as today’s Casper.

GIS connections

This year, Ebba Stedilli’s interpersonal communication students partnered with GIS students and interviewed people who remember the Salt Creek Oil Field. The GIS students soon will add these audio-recorded oral histories to their interactive virtual towns.

Eighth-grade student Josh Anderson earns credit toward his high school and college education in advanced GIS. In his second semester, he hopes to earn GIS certification by the time he graduates from high school.

“It will really help me get a job,” Anderson said, who plans to go into engineering. He enjoyed finding ceramic wire insulators, gas valves and cement foundations last year. This year, fewer such traces could be found at the old town sites, he said.

He and Tyler Leinonen, also in 8th grade, started GIS as part of a 4-H project for GIS college students to mentor them. Sun suggested the mentoring program to GIS technician Jeanette Buelt of RMOTC, who also leads 4-H. The students have benefited from her connections, like meetings with software training specialists. Leinonen, Buelt’s grandson, was the youngest presenter at the Petroleum User’s Conference in Houston and won the Wyoming Youth Historian of the Year award two years ago for a GIS presentation.

Buelt took the advanced GIS class herself and told Sun about the RMOTC historic mapping project of the greater Salt Creek area. That lead to the ongoing class project, which she helps coordinate.

According to Nations, RMOTC is working to gain historic mine byway designation for the old Salt Creek Highway, which would be the second such designation in the state. Contractors are currently developing displays adjacent to what’s left of the abandoned highway. Only a portion of the original Salt Creek Highway still exists from Black Hills Bentonite in Mills to Bar Nunn. In the application for historical byway status, Nations mentioned the college’s GIS project as one of the possible products that would be available to researchers.

“There was interest in that [virtual town sites] because rather than just having physical signs in a couple of locations in Natrona County, this is something that could be at a future visitor’s center at Teapot Dome. It could be at the college,” he said, and perhaps in various museums and historical archive centers.

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