Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Land surveyors learn from the past to inform future management decisions

two men operate an old line of sight, land surveying compass, while out in the field as part of a workshop. In the background, other members of the group stand around.
Deputy surveyor/compassman Nathan Price sights the line while Bob Stone holds on the tally as others wait their turn on the “GLO crew”. USDA Forest Service photo.

MISSOURI – In early April, surveyors from across region – from Minnesota to Pennsylvania – joined the regional surveyor and chief surveyor on the Mark Twain National Forest for a successful Region 9 Land Surveyors workshop.

Surveyors from the Mark Twain National Forest, Chris Ferguson and Terry Throesch, were the masterminds behind the successful meeting, incorporating old and new surveying methods and discussion around the lands program in the future.

A highlight of the workshop was a field day that presented an opportunity for the entire group to search for and recover an original General Land Office corner and review historical field methods using actual equipment from that timeframe. It also involved perpetuating the recovered corner position with a modern survey monument that will provide a foundation for future surveys in the area.

After a safety briefing and introduction, the field day kicked off with a discussion of GLO history in Missouri, augmented by accounts of surveying from the Colonial States through Ohio’s Seven Ranges and the First through Fifth Principal Meridians. A highlight of the event was practicing with the ancient “tools of the trade” that were graciously lent to the group by Bob Shotts of Robert S. Shotts, Inc. The compasses, Jacob staffs and chains dating from the 1830s added a “hands-on” element to the GLO retracement. The group experienced first-hand how daunting the challenge would be to measure up to six miles a day with such equipment –as was expected of GLO surveys. All participants took away a richer appreciation for “following in the footsteps” of early surveyors.

The group successfully incorporated modern GPS positioning equipment to calculate the actual corner location. Two stumpholes from original GLO witness trees, one stumphole from a subsequent county survey, and a second-growth hickory springing from the line tree stumphole less than two chains north, all supported the corner location. While aged evidence memorialized the corner location, the data collected by GPS will support modern geospatial depictions of NFS ownership in GIS tools and products. 

Physical evidence of original GLO property corners is fast disappearing due to age, fire, and expanding development. Capturing evidence before it disappears is essential to preserve the stability of land ownership and titles. By perpetuating property corners and marking boundary lines, surveyors eliminate conflicts with adjoining landowners and provide for the public’s enjoyment, future use and access to NFS lands.

As a group, Forest Land Surveyors support natural resource management, both on the ground and in the planning stages, to delineate ownership and boundaries of land that the Forest Service manages to sustain forest health, diversity and productivity.

Group photo of all Region 9 Land Surveyors workshop participants
Participants from the Region 9 Land Surveyors workshop – From left, first row: Roger Mallott, Superior NF; Randy Erickson, Chequamegon-Nicolet NF; Carter Deems, Milwaukee Region 9 Office; Terry Throesch, Mark Twain NF; Nathan Price, Washington Office; Chip Chapman, Wayne NF; Bob Stone, Hoosier NF, Bill Malcomb, Monongahela NF, Lance Brown, Shawnee NF. Second row: Mike Smith, Superior NF; Carol Waite, Huron-Manistee NF; Joe McGraw, Allegheny NF; Chris Ferguson, Mark Twain NF. Third row: Aaron Skattum, Chippewa NF; Jordan Ketola; Ottawa NF and Hiawatha NF; Darren Norrington, Hoosier NF; Mike Hancock, Shawnee NF. USDA Forest Service photo by Elizabeth Schleif.