the north face windbreaker Google Trekker makes Monterey County its launching point for ambitious trail
First there was Google Earth, which let people travel the world from their computer screens. Then there was Google Maps, with its Street View that allows users to virtually drive down nearly any street, viewing fronts of homes and businesses. Now, Google Trekker which expands Street View to off road areas is mapping trails and parks. Monterey County is ground zero.
In fall 2014, Google and the state Department of Parks and Recreation announced they had put California’s state parks on Google Maps. By the time of the announcement, officials reported, theGoogleTrekkerprogramhadalreadystarted. Five of the 10 the state parks they’d mapped by then along with the three state beaches, the one state reserve and most of the 25 trails were in Monterey County.
“When the road ends, it doesn’t mean there isn’t more to explore,” she says. “We hope that the [Google Trekker] imagery will inspire people to visit these beautiful parks in person.”
As of now, the state reports, Google has filmed more than 100 state parks and beaches. Google Maps Street View users can virtually hike more than 51 trails across Monterey County, including in Toro and Jacks Peak county parks, Andrew Molera and Pfeiffer Big Sur state parks, and eight local state beaches. It doesn’t add up to every single trail in the area, but it’s enough to give anyone with an Internet connection access to a wide range of local terrain.
“As a tourist, when planning your trip or vacation, you can go online to look at a hotel room before booking it,” State Parks spokesman Dennis Weber says. “That is what we were looking for when we partnered with Google.”
Google has invited tourism boards, nonprofits, universities, research organizations and others to collect videos of hard to reach places.
The Monterey County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (MCCVB) filled out the online request form in January 2014. After a nine month wait, Google loaned the Trekker to MCCVB for two months, October through November 2014. The bureau enlisted Big Sur Guides and Hiking to help collect imagery not only of local trails, but also of Fishermen’s Wharf and Lake El Estero.
Hannah Lonergan then a tour guide with Big Sur Guides and Hiking, now a sales associate for theWeekly was part of that effort. She, along with colleague Hallie Heath, were tasked with mapping out about 20 places in Monterey County with the Trekker.
They shared the load of the large backpack, which weighed more than 40 pounds, making it feel like hiking with a small child riding piggyback. The Trekker contained a battery connected to an array of 15 GoPro cameras through a thick metal cable. The battery powered the cameras and a live feed that linked up to an Android phone they carried. The smartphone allowed them to start and stop the camera, and view the images the Trekker was recording. Lonergan and Heath kept a running log of where they hiked, how long the hikes took and anything else of interest.
“We looked like nerdy Ghostbusters,” Lonergan says.
But there are other issues at work. A number of passing hikers asked Longeran and Heath if their faces would appear in Google imagery. (They assured them their faces wouldn’t; but study of the site reveals automatic face blurring isn’t always successful.) Others wonder aloud how Google owned documenting of a public resource like a state park was approved and managed. After all, no official word that it was happening came until a majority of the 51 Google Trekker maps were complete. Some locals, including independent Big Sur types, decry public disclosure of a locally known trails like they do semi secret surf breaks.
TheGoogleTrekkerprogramhasmappedoutmanyotherwondersoftheworldbeyond Big Sur, including the Himalayas, the pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal and the Galapagos Islands. Is it spying or a handy way to reach the summit without leaving your desk? A smart tool to attract tourists, or a lazy shortcut to a hiker’s hard won reward? Either way, Google Trekker trains its lens where technology and travel are headed into the digital wild.