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Iowa State University Extension

4-H’ers use GPS/GIS to map barn quilts of Sac County

Sac County barn quilt GPS/GIS project

When historic barn quilts merge with futuristic geospatial technologies, the result is a high-tech take on a new tourist attraction. Northwest Iowa 4-H Technology Team youth are using their newfound skills in global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) to map Sac County’s historic barn quilts. According to ISU Extension 4-H Youth Field Specialist Carol Ehlers, “The goal was to develop a geospatial technologies project that would provide useful information for a community and might impact economic growth.”

ISU Extension GIS Specialist Alan Jensen taught the technology savvy 4-H’ers to use Garmin eTrex GPS receivers to collect the latitude and longitude positions of more than 50 historic barns sporting colorful painted wooden quilt blocks. A barn quilt driving team guided the youth in collecting GPS data points both at the road sign and at the barn. The 4-H’ers and drivers returned to a computer lab to download the data into Google Earth files with help from a GISCorps volunteer, Brandon Haas of NewCom Technologies Inc. in Des Moines. GISCorps is a program of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), and coordinates short term, volunteer GIS services to communities worldwide.

“This is a fantastic example of how a group of dedicated volunteers can help 4-H clubs all over the country,” said Shoreh Elhami, GISCorps co-founder, who is publicizing the project on the organization’s Web site.

Ehlers said 4-H families and volunteers already have invested more than 180 hours in preparing and using GPS technology to secure each barn’s data point. The youth also were instructed in using GIS software to develop an Internet-based driving tour of the historic barns. Because of the 4-H Technology Team’s work, what has been a paper map will soon come to life on the project’s web site.   

This article appeared in February 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter