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National park prepares for virtual visitors

MIDDLESBORO — Before long, visitors to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park might be able to take in the great outdoors from indoors.

The park is experimenting with new Web technology involving Google Earth and maps of the park that its scientists are creating.

"Once in Google Earth, folks can explore the park and adjacent areas," park ranger Scott Teodorski told the Middlesboro Daily News.

Google Earth is a mapping technology that takes 2-D, and sometimes 3-D, satellite images of places all over the globe. Users can type in any address and watch as the satellite images pinpoint the location they choose.

While the technology isn't available yet on the park's site (www.nps.gov/cuga), Teodorski, who is also the Web site manager for the park, expects to have it up soon.

"It's really cool technology, and we're looking forward to using it," he said.

Scientists at the park are creating different kinds of maps of the area that can be integrated with Google Earth, Teodorski said. Once they're done, the maps will be uploaded to the Web site, available for everyone.

It "takes you directly to that spot and zooms in right onto the national park," he said.

Users then will be able to explore anything in the park, including new areas of land acquisition or a camp.

The mapping technology will allow park rangers to mark areas where a prescribed fire is clearing out old brush or an area is closed for other reasons.

Teodorski said other parks in the country are using Google Earth to identify boundary lines and watersheds.

"This is a valuable tool to educate folks on what we're doing," he said. "It's a chance to highlight the park and key issues."

While Teodorski said the goal is to integrate the Web site with the newest technology, the park doesn't want to alienate potential visitors.

"We don't want anything not accessible," said Teodorski. "Some things we avoid so everyone can use it."

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