Since it opened in 1934, the Washington Park Arboretum has been home to thousands of plant collections and species, each with a meticulously kept record and history. A computerized database for record keeping was established in the early 1990s but more than 55 years of the earlier records have remained preserved solely on paper, scribbled on grid maps or recorded in countless handwritten notes.
The University of Washington Botanic Gardens started work last August on a two-year project to digitize those records and create an interactive geographic information systems map for the entire park. Eventually planners and visitors will be able to go online and pinpoint specific plants and collections within the arboretum, and access all sorts of historical details.
“People will be able to find an area in the arboretum, then zoom down and see which plants are there,” says Tracy Mehlin, project manager and information technology librarian at the UW’s Center for Urban Horticulture. “It will be really fascinating and educational to have all of that history linked to the plant records, and accessible online to everyone.”
One of the first tasks of the project was to begin surveying and verifying the geospatial coordinates of the 230-acre park, which decades ago was divided into 595 grid squares, each 100 feet by 100 feet. When those grid markers and coordinates are confirmed, they will be used to create a map that supports the geo-referenced database. Two- and three-person teams of students and staff have already been out surveying for the past couple months.