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How to use survey info to identify locations in the forest.

Updated on June 20, 2014

Forests are full of valuable information you can use

The United States is divided into townships for legal land descriptions and you can use that information for navigation. For instance, the photo shows a corner marker, erected where four one square mile sections meet. If you know how to read the numbers, you can locate this spot on a map. No GPS necessary.

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What's a township?

The United States is made up of townships that are 6 miles square, or 36 square miles, with each section numbered starting at the upper right in the manner shown in the illustration. The north/south orientation has a township number and the east/west orientation is called the range, and is also numbered.

The corners of these square mile sections have been surveyed and marked throughout the forest. Before the advent of Global Positioning Systems, these corners were used to identify property lines for stumpage or land sales.

The illustrations and maps used in this lens are for the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota.

This is a corner marker

This is a corner marker
This is a corner marker
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Where are you?

The marker tells us we are at the corner of sections 21 and 22 and 27 and 28, and the township is 150 North and the range is 27 West. The photo shows where this marker is located on a USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle map. You can see the section lines and where they intersect at the south end of Glove Lake, the spot is about where the cartographers decided to print the elevation.

Follow the numbers - click to enlarge and rotate.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Identify the townshipAlign the township number with the rangeNow locate the section numbers and the cornerthis one happens to be at the edge of Glove LakeAnd it's easy to find because national forest boundaries also meet at this corner.
Identify the township
Identify the township
Align the township number with the range
Align the township number with the range
Now locate the section numbers and the corner
Now locate the section numbers and the corner
this one happens to be at the edge of Glove Lake
this one happens to be at the edge of Glove Lake
And it's easy to find because national forest boundaries also meet at this corner.
And it's easy to find because national forest boundaries also meet at this corner.
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What the heck is a base tree?

There are generally four base trees marked near a corner monument. The base trees will have big red blazes at eye level on one side of a tree, the corner will be inside the area marked by these blazes on all four trees. Very often, the letters B/T are also painted on the tree to indicate it is a base tree. Base trees are not a certainty though, as trees may blow down, rot, burn, etc.

There are other location markers!

Commonly called "Red Tops" these posts could be anywhere in a section and mark the approximate location in the township/section. The red tops also tell the township and range numbers and bearing and distance to the nearest corner.

detailed information - click to enlarge and rotate

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is a red top.this is the information tag, note the T and R at the top, for Township and Range.the tack tells your approximate locationIt will also include the bearing and distance to the nearest corner.In this case, it tells us we are near the corner of sections 14 and 13 and sections 23 and 24, or very near Welch Lake.
This is a red top.
This is a red top.
this is the information tag, note the T and R at the top, for Township and Range.
this is the information tag, note the T and R at the top, for Township and Range.
the tack tells your approximate location
the tack tells your approximate location
It will also include the bearing and distance to the nearest corner.
It will also include the bearing and distance to the nearest corner.
In this case, it tells us we are near the corner of sections 14 and 13 and sections 23 and 24, or very near Welch Lake.
In this case, it tells us we are near the corner of sections 14 and 13 and sections 23 and 24, or very near Welch Lake.

Keep your eyes open.

Although often placed on posts, these information tags could be simply tacked to a tree, usually at eye height. However, you have to know that with the advent of GPS technology, these markers started losing their value and they are disappearing.

prototype port-a-potty?

prototype port-a-potty?
prototype port-a-potty?

Photos just for fun! - click to enlarge and rotate.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Please feel free to comment.

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    • profile image
      Author

      Pete Schultz 3 years ago

      @Old Navy Guy: Thanks for the comment. I learned by being a certified line cutter, a

      forestry job that involves marking the exact (or somewhere thereabouts)

      property lines to sell stumpage rights. Pete.

    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 3 years ago

      Nice job. One would almost think you learned map and terrain following in the military. Thanks for sharing. Cheers.

    • irminia profile image

      irminia 4 years ago

      Good piece of info!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I have never seen one of these markers and we do a lot of hiking. Interesting. I will have to keep walking.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 4 years ago

      Very cool! I've seen those markers, among others, but had no idea how to use them. Bookmarked for a review the next time I venture into parts unknown.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Very informative. Love township maps! ;-)

    • profile image

      crstnblue 5 years ago

      Nice lens and very informative. Thanks for sharing!

    • cdevries profile image

      cdevries 5 years ago

      Cool Lens! Hard to believe George Washington hiked through woods like these - dragging a chain! - to survey land. Nowadays surveyors use lasers.

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 5 years ago

      Great information. Nice lens.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Great stuff to know! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      gravityx9 6 years ago

      re: 'the lost forty' sign - are the forty still lost if you find all of them? jk..........you have lots of fun information on the parks in MN!

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      GetSillyProduct 6 years ago

      wow, I just learned a ton of stuff, terrific lens!

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 6 years ago

      Fascinating - I didn't know any of this! Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Well, I sure learned something here, great information Pete...and love the porta potty pic, lol!

    • MamaRuth profile image

      MamaRuth 6 years ago

      This was very interesting to me. I teach my history students about the laws that created the system for surveying and settling the Northwest Territory so we look at the diagrams of townships. However, I really knew nothing about the marker system. Thanks, for teaching me something interesting that I will share with my students.