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Last week, Stevens County launched a new website where citizens can explore GIS data. This screenshot shows the benefit areas for County Ditches 1, 4, and 11. Different layers can be added and removed to show features of the county. The website is located at http://gis.co.stevens.mn.us/gis.

Stevens County launches GIS website

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MORRIS – Want to know who owns a particular parcel of land in Everglade Township? Curious which sections are included in County Ditch 1?

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That information can now be found online using Stevens County’s new Geographic Information System (GIS) website, which launched for the public last week.

The base of the county’s GIS website is a parcel layer. As data is collected, more maps are created that can be placed on top of the parcel layer – much like pages can be placed on an overhead projector – to provide information about properties, landforms, roads and more across the county.

Each new layer (collection of data) is tied back to the original parcel layer, allowing users to visualize and utilize that data in new ways.

“The parcel layer is the base layer we’re going to work with in the county,” explained IT Director Scott Busche.

When Jenna Walz, Stevens County’s GIS technician, was hired in February 2013, her first project was to update the county’s parcel layer using legal property descriptions provided by the county assessor and county recorder’s offices. After that, she moved on to getting the information online in a format that would be available for the public.

Although the parcel layer will never technically be done – “there are always splits that are going to need to be updated,” said Walz – it was considered complete enough to move forward with the public site in February.

Having a website with GIS data provides an opportunity for the public to get more involved with GIS and help people become more familiar with features in the county.

“They can see, especially with the parcel information, is this accurate? Is this a good representation of my land?” said Walz.

The county’s GIS website – http://gis.co.stevens.mn.us/gis/ – is run by GeoMOOSE, a free, open-source GIS software.

“If people are familiar with things like Google Maps, they should be able to navigate through the site,” said Busche.

In addition to basic information like roads and municipal boundaries, the map includes the county ditch system and information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources like snowmobile trails, boat access sites and waterfowl production areas.

Busche said he is especially pleased with the way the county ditch system is included on the website. Walz worked with Daniel Lissick, assistant county ditch inspector with the Stevens County Highway Department, to find the legal descriptions for each system as well as mapping coordinates on the system.

Because of that work, website users can look at the location of any ditch system in the county to see the benefit areas and the beginning and end points.

Ditch information is also tied to parcel data. Users can search for information by property owners or parcel ID, or use a select feature to pull up all of the property owners in a given area. That data can be exported in a variety of ways, including mailing labels for notifications or in a spreadsheet.

Other future additions may include zoning information and address points – anything that can be tied together geographically.

One of the fears when moving forward with GIS in 2013 was that it would continue to add more county staff. However, Busche said he doesn’t anticipate that the county will hire GIS-exclusive positions. Instead, as staff members in other offices retire, new hires will come to the county with a GIS background.

“I think we’re going to see some of these hybrid positions that come in where you are filling an existing position but part of those requirements are going to be with a GIS background – that’s exactly what happened at the Highway Department,” said Busche.

Now that the public website is up and running, the county’s GIS Committee will meet to set a list of priorities for Walz to focus on as the website expands.

The committee is also looking for feedback from the public on what features to add to the website. There is a feedback section on the county’s main website, www.co.stevens.mn.us, that can be used for suggestions.

“We have to balance it – what’s of good value to our county employees and what’s also of good value to the citizens of Stevens County,” said Busche. “This website is available to everybody. … We want to put something out there that is going to be valuable to everybody.”

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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