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Thread: "Benchmarking" as a Component of Your Outdoor Activities

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    Default "Benchmarking" as a Component of Your Outdoor Activities

    We've all visited mountaintops and seen a metal disc-shaped benchmark that was cemented in place at or near the highest point. Across the continental U.S. (as well as in Alaska and Hawaii) there are survey benchmarks set in rock or permanent structures that range from city sidewalks and bridges to remote ridges and mountaintops. These have been set by surveyors since 1879.

    Searching for these benchmarks (a.k.a. "benchmarking") can be an enjoyable way to enjoy the outdoors. You can customize this activity to fit your available time, energy, and skills. For example, some benchmarks are easily accessible by driving your car, parking, and then walking just a short distance. Whereas to locate other benchmarks, you might need to hike a trail for several miles. And, in some cases, you might need to use your map and compass skills to bushwhack through the woods in your attempt to locate a benchmark.

    Until recently, I was totally aware that benchmarks are placed by two separate governmental agencies, as follows.

    _ The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) was formerly known as the Coast and Geodetic Survey. It is part of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which is under the Department of Commerce. It is concerned with the maintenance of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

    _ The US Geological Survey(USGS) is under the Department of the Interior. This agency is responsible for the production of topographic maps.

    Shown in the photo below are two benchmarks. The one on the left was placed by the USGS. The one on the right was placed by the NGS.


    As a hiker, I can see similarities between searching for old logging camps, and searching for benchmarks in remote locations. However, there are some who consider "benchmarking" as just another form of geocaching. Regardless, if you are outdoors having fun either by searching for an old logging camp, or a benchmark, or whatever, does it really matter if you're classified as a hiker, or as a geocacher?

    I'm looking forward to occasionally pairing a "benchmarking" adventure with one of my other outdoor activities of hiking, mountain-biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing. This seems like a combination that might work well, and add some extra spice to those pursuits.

    For anyone who might be interested in reading a bit more, I've written a short Blog report (click HERE). It contains much of the same information as presented here, plus a few more details.
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    Do you know of any list somewhere that has the locations of the benchmarks? People could set out to find all of them in a certain area. If there are more than one though, they might miss some. There are 4 benchmarks on the summit of Mt. Monadnock with one park ranger claiming there are 5 (although another ranger thinks he is wrong).

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    Sdways01, I talk about this in my blog report (click HERE). It was interesting to discover that benchmarks placed by NGS have an online searchable database which can be accessed at the link shown below. There's a slight learning curve to using this database, but if you should decide to go on a hunt for benchmarks, it's worth taking the time to master this resource.

    http://www.ngs.noaa.gov/CORS-Proxy/NGSDataExplorer/

    As for USGS survey benchmark data, unfortunately that agency has not yet put their paper records of benchmark locations into computerized files. However, some USGS benchmark locations have found their way into the NGS database. But for USGS benchmarks that are not in the database, it can be challenging to find them without contacting the USGS directly by phone or e-mail. (For Eastern U.S., call 573-308-3500, or e-mail at mcmcesic@usgs.gov; for Western U.S. call 303-202-4400, or e-mail at infoservices@usgs.gov.)
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    This is very interesting John. I've seen these in various places from time to time, but never really gave them much thought. I might just have to try and learn how to read that database and look for some down here in my neck of the woods. Thanks for sharing!
    Bob

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    Thanks very much for the explanation about the two types of benchmarks. It was one of those things that I kinda vaguely noticed and wondered about but never pursued. I am fascinated by the different types of goals hikers have. These goals include peakbagging on all levels (a friend of mine is working on county high points in western NC, southwest VA, east TN); trailbagging ("900-milers" in the Smokies, and I'm sure folks are doing all the trails in the WMNF). I went through a peakbagging phase and managed to do the NE 100 Highest and the Winter 4's but never quite finished the NH 100 Highest before moving back to the Southern Appalachians. I am close to finishing a stream-bagging project of going off-trail up all the streams to Mt. LeConte. After that I will probably continue with streams, exploring all the tributaries of the Little Pigeon River, which are all very wild, beautiful streams.

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    @Snow Miser: Bob, thanks for your reply. The thing that I find most fascinating about "benchmarking" is that you can customize this activity to fit your available time, energy, and skills. As I say in my Blog report, some benchmarks are easily accessible by driving your car, and then walking just a short distance. Whereas to locate other benchmarks, you might need to hike a trail for several miles. And, in some cases, you might need to use your map and compass skills to bushwhack through the woods in your attempt to locate a benchmark.

    @krummholz: Jenny, my thanks to you also for your reply. And yes, I also am fascinated by the different types of goals that hikers have. Your "stream-bagging" pursuit sounds very interesting! Innovative projects such as that really interest me. I might have to consider picking out a mountain here in NH and giving that a try!
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    As a geocacher, I have found a few benchmarks while caching. They aren't necessarily the easiest things to find. One or two of benchmarks that I have found were pretty damaged from being exposed to the elements. If they are in areas that don't get much foot traffic, nature begins to take them over with overgrowth. They are a good alternative if I get tired of looking for "tuperware in the woods" as I have often called the hobby of geocaching.

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    I have found two additional types of markers, triangulation stations and reference marks.
    Attachment 1465

    Attachment 1466

    I'm not all that familiar with surveying or cartography so after a brief internet search, I found this useful info: http://www.geocaching.com/mark/#triangulation

    Additionally, I found an alternative to the NOAA website that is more user friendly: http://benchmarks.scaredycatfilms.com/

    Who would have thought that there would be a benchmark on the NH capital steps?
    NH capitol step benchmark.jpg
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