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Why are there no trails, powerlines, libraries, PLSS lines, etc. on US Topo maps?

The original USGS 7.5-minute topographic map series (1945-1992) included feature classes that are not yet shown on US Topo maps. Examples include recreational trails, pipelines, power lines, survey markers, many types of boundaries, and many types of buildings. The USGS no longer does field verification or other primary data collection for these feature classes, and there are no national data sources suitable for general-purpose, 1:24,000-scale maps. For many of these feature classes, USGS is working with other agencies to develop data. Over time, as these data become available and are included in The National Map, that content will be added to the US Topos. Published articles providing an overview of US Topo content and general project philosophy.
 
Because US Topo maps are mass produced from GIS databases, some features shown on traditional maps may never be included on US Topo. For example, it is doubtful a national database of isolated ranch windmills and water tanks will ever be built.
 
The two most requested additional feature classes are Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and recreational trails. For these two feature classes we are optimistic about eventually achieving the content of traditional maps, or perhaps even better.
 
  • During the second 3-year US Topo production cycle (2013-15) progress has been made on adding PLSS. As of October 2014, PLSS has been published on US Topo maps in 11 states (WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, UT, CO, NM, OH, AR, MI). At least five more states (CA, AZ, NV, MO,IL) will be added to this list in 2015. PLSS is also included on Alaska maps. The Bureau of Land Management provides these data, often in cooperation with state agencies. The PLSS layer is turned off by default when a map is opened in Acrobat Reader, and must be clicked on by the user -- the reason is that displaying the PLSS network and the U.S. National Grid together leads to confusing visual clutter.
  • Recreational trails are a harder problem due to the lack of national data sources, but progress is being made here as well. US Topo maps began including the National Scenic Trails (such as the Appalachian Trail) in 2013. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided trails for their lands which are now shown on all new US Topo maps. U.S. Forest Service provided trails for their lands in Colorado, and is working on a nation-wide database that will allow us to show trails in all National Forests. In October 2014 we began showing trails contributed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), a non-government volunteer organization. We expect the number of recreational trails on the maps to steadily increase in the coming years.
 
Other feature classes that are the subjects of frequent questions:
  • Railroads -- The oldest US Topo maps do not show any railroads. In 2012 we began publishing railroad data provided by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). This dataset, though positionally accurate, was known to be less than 50% complete. In 2014 we changed data sources, to a dataset provided by a Department of Defense contractor. This dataset is believed to be at least 95% complete, and is expected to continue to improve.
  • Boundaries -- see this FAQ.
  • Buildings and structures -- Traditional topographic maps locate and label a variety of public buildings and other structures, such as courthouses, libraries, visitor centers, transportation terminals, stadiums, towers, and bridges. National public domain datasets of these feature classes do not currently exist. Although these kinds of features are not generally within USGS scope, we are developing a long-term strategy for maintaining selected structures data. These efforts depend on cooperation with other government agencies, and also a new project of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). US Topo maps currently show 10 structure feature types (this set of 10 was standardized in 2013; earlier US Topo maps showed varying structure types and used some non-current data). We hope to add more in the coming years.
  • Powerlines, oil and gas pipelines, other energy infrastructure -- Except for a few unusual instances, such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, these features are not shown on US Topo. National public domain datasets do not exist, and even if they did, adapting them to general-purpose maps would be difficult. In some cases there are also security reasons for not publishing these data.
  • Landmarks -- Unique landmark features are a surprisingly difficult problem. Such features may include buildings, natural features, isolated monuments, points of interest, and even unusual but important transportation features. No national GIS database of landmark features exists, and constructing one is problematic. Nevertheless, not having such a dataset leads to cartographic oddities, such as not labeling the White House. The US Topo project hopes to eventually address this problem as part of the buildings and structures issue discussed above.
  • Remote roads -- Traditional topographic maps were compiled in part from direct field observation, and were therefore a unique source of information for remote and unimproved roads. Since 2010, US Topo maps have used commercially licensed road data. Commercial data are accurate and complete in populated areas and along transportaiton corridors, but less so in remote and unpopulated areas. Building a national public domain road dataset that can rival the traditional topographic map series for overall completeness and accuracy is a long-term problem, but one that is being discussed by USGS, Census Bureau, and U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The US Topo project and the other products of The National Map intend to begin using public domain road data from the Census Bureau in 2016. US Topo maps currently use public domain data from USFS on their lands, and will continue to do so.
  • Recreational features (campgrounds, boat docks, swimming pools, golf courses, etc) -- These are basically the same problem as either recreational trails or structures, discussed above, and some will eventually be addressed in the same ways. However, there are many of these feature types, and most will never be high priorities for USGS mapping.

Tags: Maps, Recreation, Quadrangle, GeoPDF, Scale