Bonner County mapping system opens the region

By Bill Harp

Reader Columnist

If you love exploring the diverse geography of northern Idaho and working with maps but are not familiar with the Bonner County Map (BCM) on the Bonner County mapping web site portal (http://maps.bonnercounty.us) let me introduce you to this hidden gem.  OK, I know that some of you are web mapping junkies and maybe have explored the world with Google Earth. However, the Bonner County mapping portal has mapping apps and data that you won’t find on Goggle Earth—or any other mapping application for that matter.

The Main Web Application on the portal or the Bonner County Map is the first one to explore. Although it runs in a browser and on different operating systems (Windows, Android, Linux, Chrome, iOS) you do need a larger screen—say eight diagonal inches or more—to properly appreciate its features. If you just have a smart phone you can play with the Mobile Web Application, the second application on the portal. That mobile app show a limited amount of county data, but it does show your location on the map if you have a GPS chip set in your mobile device and the application can route you from one address to another.

Although the BCM interface is deceptively uncluttered, there are a lot of features that you really need to explore to use the mapping system’s full capability. The BCM (http://maps.bonnercounty.us/apps/public/) has several key areas: tool bar at the top left of the screen, data layer selection and some other features on the right column, scale bar on the bottom left and address search box on the upper right and, of course, the map in the middle of the screen. Notice the + and – icons in the upper left. You can use them to zoom in or out, or just use your mouse wheel to zoom in and out which is a lot faster. There are zoom-in and out tools on the toolbar too.

The default map background is called “Basemap,” but you can change that to six other different layers that you can select on the toolbar in the upper-left under Basemap dropdown selection box. A couple of those layers deserve special mention. “NAIP 2013 (1/2 meter)” provides high-resolution photography of the entire county and surrounding area. “Topographic Map shows the U.S. Geological Survey maps of the county. This is a great source for historical place names and contour intervals that show elevation data. You can explore the other “Basemaps” too.

You can use the address search box to find any address in the county. When the system finds your address, it will highlight the address with a blue marker. Note that if you zoom in beyond 1:60,000 scale you will see polygons with tan outlines, and when zooming in to 1:32,000 scale, little green triangles will appear. OK, this is the pay dirt. The tan polygons are land parcels and the green triangles are official addresses. This is the authoritative data of the county, and it’s used to route emergency responders to your house or help the assessor  charge your taxes. The valuable thing here is that all these geographic features have data or attributes associated with them. And you can see these attributes by using the “i” tool in the white and blue icon on the tool bar in the upper left to click on the parcel to review the parcel attributes. Notice the owner’s names, the address, zoning, legal description, house type, acreage size and assessed value among other interesting attributes. The “i” or identity tool works with most other features too, not just parcels. Sometimes multiple attributes come up depending on how many layers you have turned on (more on that later) and you can just scroll through them with the arrow left and right tools at the top of the attribute box.

Haven’t you always wondered how much your neighbor’s property is assessed at? Well, now you can find the assessed value of any property in the county. Ain’t government transparency fun? Also, if this isn’t enough data you can access copies of the last few legal documents associated with the property like the warranty deed with the hyperlinks in blue at the bottom of the attribute record dialog box. Be sure that pop-ups are enabled for this web site in your browser or you won’t be able to see the legal documents. These are, of course, all public records and the county is making it easy for you to access them with a click of the mouse.

Now for some more cool stuff. Look over on the right-hand side of the screen. Notice all those data layers? There are dozens of them. Click on any of the plus symbols to see the sub-layers hidden underneath. All the political, administrative, taxing districts as well as geographic data are here for you to review. Also, you will find the official county zoning and land use data here too. Just place a check mark with a click in front of the feature you want to see and it will display on the map. Want to see the FEMA flood zones? Timely no? There are all kinds of spatial data all conveniently arranged in one place. There are no other mapping applications with such a collection of rich, authoritative and detailed data of Bonner County. Notice that each major type of features has a slider bar above it that you can use to control the transparency of the layers in each section. This makes is possible for you to see details of the basemap underneath any geographic features that you might be reviewing.

The Draw and Export section on the right-hand column has another powerful set of features. You can annotate you map with points, lines, polygons and text.  And every geometric feature you draw has a precise measurement associated with it. So, you can calculate length, area, distance, etc., right on the map. You can choose the colors of your annotation, too. If you mess up, no problem: Just use the clear graphics tool on the tool bar in the upper left. If you need the geographic coordinates of any point, just use the coordinate tool on the upper left tool bar. That is the icon with the xy in it.

If you have stuck with me so far you are probably wondering about now if you can print a map, and of course you can. Just go to the Export section in the right column and choose a layout template for printing or for creating a digital file. Hint: Choose a larger-sized template if you want a digital map with higher resolution. Select a format for output. I usually want a PDF file. Most folks know how to read a PDF.  You can put a title in and other information in the fields provided. And then hit export. Big hint: You must enable pop-ups in your browser for this site if you want to export a map to a file.  Presto, you now have your own copy of your annotated map that you can then save to disk and send it around to others. Also, you can save your annotations too with the little arrow tools in the upper right. These are the tools right to the left of the Question tool icon.  Save and preserve your annotation with the arrow down icon tool that sends all your annotation to a file (the default location of the file created is your download directory and the annotation file has a .bcmap extension). Then you can read the annotation file with the arrow up icon tool and you will see all your carefully constructed annotations on the BCM on your computer at a later date. You can send your annotation to others too and they will be able to re-construct your annotated map on their computer.

Finally, you can search for stuff. You can find, for example, the owner of a parcel. Or find township, ranges and sections or coordinates for latitude and longitude. If you want an overview of all the features of the mapping system just hit the Question mark icon in the upper right section of the screen.

The Bonner County Map has far more features and data then most folks realize. This geographic information system is an example of your tax dollars at work, so you can benefit from your investment if you just spend a little time exploring its many features. After all, you did want to find out if that road you have been exploring was a public road? And you want to make sure that the field with that big buck is on public land?  So, in closing: “If you don’t know where, then you’re not there!“

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