OpenTreeMap for Tree Inventory: Ursinus College

OpenTreeMap for Tree Inventory: Ursinus College

When we talk to individuals and organizations interested in using OpenTreeMap to map their urban forests through crowd sourcing, we like to say that OpenTreeMap is a hybrid – half tree inventory tool, and half public engagement and outreach platform. But what do either of those parts mean, concretely? What kinds of goals can you accomplish with a tree inventory and public engagement platform? Over the past several months, through conversations on the opentreemap-user Google Group and at the 2012 Partners in Community Forestry conference, I’ve learned about a few particularly exciting projects happening in our community of OpenTreeMap users. I’ve decided with the leaves finally back and spring planting season upon us, it’s high time to highlight and celebrate what some in the OpenTreeMap community are doing and share it with others through some posts on Azavea Atlas. If you’re using an OpenTreeMap site for a cool project, let me know!

In this first post, I’ll dive into a campus tree inventory research project that Amos Almy, a student at Ursinus College here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and his advisor, Professor Patrick Hurley, have started by utilizing since the beginning of the Fall 2012 semester.

I met Amos through the opentreemap-user Google Group, when he helped us identify and replicate an issue in PhillyTreeMap where the software wasn’t allowing users to delete their own trees.

I started talking to Amos off-list, and his project is pretty cool. He read an article a while back in The New York Times  about two men mapping all the trees in Central Park, and wanted to do the same thing with all the trees on Ursinus College’s wooded campus. With the support of environmental studies professor Patrick Hurley, Amos turned his idea into an independent research project.

“Our goal was to create a publicly accessible map of the campus’ trees, while also providing a platform for developing a portal to educational information about individual species’ ecological and cultural benefits,” said Amos over email. “I began searching for urban tree maps online…after noticing the ability to export [PhillyTreeMap data] as a Google Earth file, I realized this offered the opportunity to further customize our map and include information on species’ cultural values, forest composition, and tree information. The PhillyTreeMap website also allowed us to use data collected not only in classrooms, but also by students, faculty and the surrounding [Collegeville, PA] community.”

After summer vacation last year, Amos started entering trees into, starting with a tree inventory given to him by Ursinus College’s facility services. “I created a system that allowed me to enter trees into the website, then measure those trees with the help of students enrolled in [an environmental studies class],” he said. Over the Fall 2012 semester, Amos and his team added over 1300 trees (!) to using the website and PhillyTreeMap iPhone application. By the end of the project, Amos predicts they will have mapped nearly one thousand of the trees on Ursinus’ campus.

Amos’ plans are to take the data he’s collected using PhillyTreeMap, export it to Google Earth-friendly KML format (using OpenTreeMap’s data export functionality), and further annotate a KML-based map of the trees on campus with more extensive icons and information. In particular, Amos and his professor are interested in focusing their KML map on the “cultural values” of tree species: the edible, medicinal, craft-related, or special aesthetic qualities of the types of trees on campus.

“This [annotated KML-based map] will provide a resource for those interested in learning about people’s connections to plants through activities, such as foraging or gathering, and could be used as a learning tool in future classes that are concerned with the interactions between people and forested environments,” explained Amos over email.

But Amos isn’t satisfied with a complete campus tree atlas and useful academic resource. This spring, three of Amos’ fellow students helped map 300 trees in a nearby park  and along streets in the wider Collegeville, PA community. “We hope the borough will advertise this process,” he said, “so that community members might get involved and the borough will have ecosystem service data to consider in future land-use decision-making processes.”

Those interested are welcome to contact Amos Almy at, or his advisor Patrick Hurley at If you know of another college or university conducting a tree inventory, let me know in the comments below or email me at And stay tuned for our next blog post in our series on the OpenTreeMap community!