State of Data Report

Natural Connections: Green Infrastructure in Wisconsin, Illinois & Indiana

April, 2004

“If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it.”

What We Did

In March, 2004, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and Openlands Project (Openlands) completed Phase I of a regional green infrastructure mapping project covering areas in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. A state-of-the-art geospatial database using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was created for 14 counties. The data collected has been used to create a poster-size map, “Natural Connections: Green Infrastructure in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana,” which shows the entire 14 county area and its natural resources on one side, and, on the other side, highlights opportunities for acquisition, restoration and management along the state borders. Additionally, at, the poster map and the underlying data collected throughout the course of Phase I are available to view and download.

The counties included in the project area are:

The data collected can be classified under the broad categories of conservation easements, floodplains, greenways and environmental corridors, groundwater, land cover, land use, pre-settlement vegetation, protected land, soils, threatened and endangered species, trails, water, watersheds, and wetlands. Civil divisions, state boundaries, county boundaries, and roads were also collected for orientation and base mapping purposes.

Why We Did It

Green infrastructure is the interconnected network of open spaces, waterways, and natural areas that provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities and helps maintain the sustainability of the region. Many land and water conservation initiatives in the United States are reactive, haphazard, piecemeal, single-scale and single-purpose rather than proactive, systematic, holistic, multi-scale, and multi-functional. Current conservation efforts often focus on individual pieces of land, limiting their conservation benefits to the environment and human health. Identifying and planning for green infrastructure—multi-purpose green space networks—provides a framework for more strategic acquisition, restoration and management of open space and natural areas.

How We Did It

Five teams of “green infrastructure experts” (one team each in Wisconsin and Indiana; three teams in Illinois) were formed and convened to provide technical advice and to ensure that the project is useful to stakeholders in their states. These teams were the primary source of data and contacts for data in their geographic area. These experts included people with extensive “on-the-ground” knowledge of the region, such as field staff, planners, natural resources specialists, members of conservancy groups, and land trust holders, as well as people with extensive “data” knowledge, such as the mapping/GIS experts from different federal, state, and county agencies, and university staff.

CNT & Openlands staff traveled to a central point within the five sub geographic areas, and hosted a series of three meetings with each of the five teams. The initial meeting provided a forum to introduce the project, ascertain contacts for data, and find out what data the stakeholders would find most useful, and how the information might ultimately be utilized. At the second round of meetings, a presentation showing data collected was given. Data gaps were highlighted to obtain the teams’ advice on additional data sources. The teams provided general feedback. At the third round of meetings, preliminary regional and Wisconsin-Illinois and Illinois-Indiana border maps were shown. General feedback on the maps, any errors, omissions, and ideas for potential cross border opportunities were discussed.

The data was provided in many different file formats generated from AutoCAD, ESRI ArcView & ArcInfo, MapInfo, GRID file types, and other programs. Additionally, the native data sets came in many different projections. The data were also collected at various scales. All data were converted to a single projection, latitude and longitude, and made available as both ArcView and MapInfo files. The metadata indicating file data source, date, scale and so on were bundled with the data so as to ensure that this information would not be lost to the end user.

Data Collected

The attached matrix details the data collected. This shows all the data that was collected, and the status and use of those data. Everyone who gave us data was asked to include metadata. However due to different levels of staff and resources we did not always receive metadata. This matrix includes data that was used to develop the poster map as well as the database that is available on the web site, but it also includes listings of data that we obtained for internal use only that can not be shared. The draft of the complete list shown in the attachment will aid efforts in the next phase of this project by giving experts access to the specific details of the data already used and logical contacts to obtain these data in an expanded geography. We created this report at the request of our partner organizations—over the next month, we will share this report with them to make sure that the format and information covered meets their needs.

What We Learned: Challenges and Opportunities

In completing Phase I of this project, some observations regarding the process and outcome of the data collection can be made.

With regard to the logistical aspects of outreach throughout such a large geographic area, the establishment of five teams of technical advisors was very successful at reaching local experts. We traveled across the region to attend these meetings, working with a local “host” organization to help identify appropriate participants and provide meeting space. For them, it made their participation easier, and for us, this face-to-face contact was critical to engage them in the process. We were able to identify their needs for the end product and their data holdings and facilitate data procurement and ongoing feedback. A complete list of the technical team experts is also attached (links to each organization’s website can be found at

An enormous amount of data was collected for this project—more than 60 organizations and government agencies provided more than 175 data layers. However, not all data categories have complete coverage throughout the 14 counties. Additionally, in some cases, data is rather outdated. As outlined below, potential areas to focus future data collection efforts can be seen.