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.