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Hobbyists and Geocachers Join the Search for Geodetic Survey Markers

Hobbyists and Geocachers Join the Search for Geodetic Survey Markers

Most of us don’t spend our free time searching for old metal discs buried under leaves and dirt, but that’s exactly what Robert Macomber––a 62-year-old telecommunications specialist from Canfield, Ohio recently drove hundreds of miles to do for fun.

For over 200 years, surveyors have placed nearly one million survey markers around the country in a nationwide network of geodetic benchmarks. Data from these markers is kept in the National Geodetic Survey’s (NGS) Integrated Database, which serves an integral role in drawing new maps, laying roads and building new infrastructure around the United States.

But with many of these metal survey markers now well over 100 years old, much of the NGS’s records are considerably outdated and in need of updating using the highly precise GPS systems available today. Finding these survey markers, however, can be a challenge when decades of growth and exposure to the elements hide them from plain sight.

Now, Robert and hundreds of others like him are teaming up with professionals using new technology to search, locate and record the positions of these survey markers to help create a more accurate database for the future.

Crowdsourcing the national geodetic survey database

In order find a sensible solution to the problem, the NGS designed a computer application that could be used by both professional surveyors and everyday hobbyists to locate or “recover” these older survey markers and submit detailed records describing their current position directly to the national database.

While the typical person might not find it exciting, the hunt for old survey markers has attracted the attention of geocachers––a small, but growing community of high tech scavenger hunters who use GPS devices to follow clues leading them to buried “caches” of goods hidden outdoors.

For these hobbyists, the search for survey markers gives them an opportunity to apply their interest in high tech treasure hunting to a national surveying effort.

After finding a marker, locators take detailed records of its GPS coordinates, current condition, and distance from nearby areas and submit a report with photos to the NGS also called a “recovery note.”

So far, about 80% of the recovery information in the database has been gathered by this crowd of professionals and weekend enthusiasts, helping to improve the resources surveyors and engineers rely on to plan the infrastructure projects crucial to our nation’s sustained growth.

Building better survey markers for more accurate and actionable data gathering

Surveyors rely on markers and monuments to stand the test of time. While finding a century-old survey marker half-buried in the ground can be exciting after an exhaustive search, part of the reason why it’s so difficult to find older markers in the first place is due to the severe corrosion and wear that renders these markers almost invisible without the help of metal detectors and other equipment.

Unlike years ago, today’s survey manufacturers have access to far stronger metal alloys that withstand even the harshest natural elements. For over 30 years, Berntsen has been developing the highest quality survey markers and monuments designed for a wide variety of applications.

Following our early innovations like the patented sectional rod monument in the mid-1970s, we’ve expanded our survey marker inventory to encompass an array of sizes, materials, and accessories providing optimal visibility and usability while making the installation process as easy and simple as possible.

Together with the ongoing crowdsourcing efforts by professionals and hobbyists alike, we’re devoted to making the kinds of long-term investments in our nation’s surveying resources that helps ensure a bright future for developers everywhere.

To learn more about the NGS’s crowdsourcing efforts, check out the full article from the Wall Street Journal here.

To see our full inventory of survey markers, click here to browse our online store or request a catalog.

Credit: Kevin Trotman



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