Mapping Property Lines and Grids with Google Earth

So I ran into a unique challenge this afternoon.  My folks own many acres of woodland in Southern Missouri, and my step-dad has cut several miles of hiking trail through their property.  The majority of the trails are cut to provide access to specific landscape features (e.g. a creek, a spectacular tree, and a waterfall) or to circumvent particularly rough terrain.  In a couple places, he knowingly – and with permission – cut the trail outside their property lines.

In a couple other places, as it turns out however, the trail runs outside their property, neither intentionally nor with permission from their neighbor.  Historically this hasn’t been a problem because the neighbors in question haven’t been to the property in about 12 years.  This has very recently and unfortunately become an issue, though, because the related property has recently changed hands and is being actively developed my the new owner.  My folks need to negotiate with the new owner for trail access, or they need to purchase the property (if the new owner is amenable), or they need to re-cut their trail.

To best assess their situation, they needed a unified map showing the trail displayed against a map of the property line. In the end, this was an easy challenge to overcome – but finding the approach and software wasn’t easy.

In an effort to save you some pain and heartache, here’s what we did:

Armed with the township and section information, we were able to leverage US Forestry Service (USFS) data via EarthPoint to generate a Google Earth KML file.

Once we had the grid loaded in Google Earth, we were able to mark the corners of the grid as “Place Marks” (load the KML file and then for each of the 4 corners, do Add > Placemark). From there, the placemarks can be toggled against any Google Earth location.

After that, we walked the trail with my Garmin watch – but any GPS device capable of generating a GPX or TCX data should work.  After we walked the trail, as my comment above would suggest, we exported the data to a TCX file.  How you do this will depend on your device and your software, so I’ll (somewhat unfortunately) leave that for you to solve.  FWIW, we used Garmin Connect to make the conversion.

The trick now was to get the TXC data into Google Earth – and we did that with TCX Converter, a free software package. The sticky point here is that the software displays by default in Italian. If you read Italian, that’s fine – but if you can only read English and Spanish (like me), this makes the software difficult to use.  On Windows (we were using Windows 7 and Windows 8), the fix that worked for us was to close TCX Converter, navigate to C:\Program Files (x86)\TCX Converter\language\, delete all of the language files except for Translate_EN.txt, and then restart the program.  That done, the conversion from TCX to KML was straight-forward to the degree that relating the steps here would be wasted effort.

From there, we simply loaded the trail map in Google Earth and then toggled the placemarkers from the USFS (EarthPoint) data – and voilà! – we had both the trail and the property lines on the same map. From there, Google Earth allowed us to export the map as a JPG, and my folks are now able to go to the new owner to discuss options.