How do I revert this fellow's change?

Posted by valhikes on 17 February 2023 in English. Last updated on 18 February 2023.

I tend to wonder a bit about this community we supposedly have. In about 6 years of edits, but only about 200 edits, I had one single interaction with community and it’s still bugging me 2 years later.

You see, this character wandered over to my changeset and commented that they had removed a trail because it “might be misleading” and they couldn’t find it on their USGS map.

Which is cute considering the USGS for the area doesn’t date back to 1995 like much of them. It dates back to 1960. You can’t find the Redwood National Park on most of it, much less any of the trails the park has made. You find the logging roads the park has actively and successfully decommissioned. The one thing you can be sure about USGS for this area is that it is wrong. Heck, I hiked on a combination of Forest Service and USGS maps all over the west for a couple years and I’ve gotten to a point that if I see these two sources agreeing, I am certain I’ll run into something very different on the ground. It’s better than a coin flip. So it’s not even uncommon that USGS is wrong. It’s just particularly wrong in this area. And it should be obvious.

But it wasn’t to this new then mapper. So they submitted this changeset to “exclude a non-existing trail”.

It’s an official trail! It literally has signs at both ends pointing it out! When you get a permit to backpack here, they send you a map that includes this trail! Yes, with all those fords that have been left swimming there in the creek. I painstakingly got it onto that map using my GPS track from actually hiking this actual trail and imagery. That track bounced around a lot there under the big trees making it quite an effort. I want this trail back.

So that bit of community didn’t leave a good taste.

On the other hand, some have pointed out that there’s always a community in knowing you’re part of a great bit project. Got to admit I’ve always felt that one. And the straight up selfish suspicion that the more edits I do, the more likely someone will notice OSM was super useful to them and start making it useful in all the places they go, and on and on. There’s that too. Because at some point I’d like to be able to, when looking at FSTopo and USGS maps thinking “How will these be massively wrong today?” when they agree, then look at OSM and say “Ah, that’s how,” rather than finding out the hard way.

And that bit of community has always been pretty good.

Location: Humboldt County, California, United States


Comment from Heather Leson on 17 February 2023 at 12:07

Sorry, you had that experience and thanks for sharing. There are also amazing kind OSMers. It is a good reminder for folks reading to be helpful and trust different knowledge. I hope you can meet them too someday.


Comment from csomerville on 17 February 2023 at 17:37

Wow. Such a beautiful scenic trail! Were you ever able to get in touch with the reverter and sort things out? Maybe adding a link to a reputable source in commit comment would help? I’m new to this myself so curious as to and hopeful for a happy conclusion.

Comment from valhikes on 17 February 2023 at 19:42

The weird thing is that I knew about it because they did get in touch with me, but only after deleting most the trail. Either “I hiked it” and “your map is 60 years old” weren’t enough or the person didn’t know how to change it back either and decided to drop it. There’s plenty of room for this person not to be bad, just coming to bad conclusions based on incomplete information.

I might have noticed the deletions anyway. There’s a number of things I don’t like about my own edits in the area. For instance, the bridges are seasonal. How do I mark that? I can think of a wrong answer: intermediate visibility. In summer and fall, you can see them easily, but in winter and spring you’ll have to search. (And you’ll find them in a pile among the trees. Oh, I made a go at seasonal tagging now, but not by that solution.) Another is that the trails on the west side of the creek follow both service roads (with visible tire marks when I was there) and built trail. I mapped this faithfully to what the trail or road is, but it serves to deemphasize the route of the trails. Maybe I should lie and call it all path? (This seems common, but serves to make the map less useful to the land manager. Maybe that shouldn’t be in my consideration?) Maybe I should pull everything into route relations? (Europe seems to like these for everything, but it’s really just a highlight for long trails around here.)

Now that I’ve had a sleep, my brain has offered that there was at least one other interaction a few years earlier, it’s just not tied up with as much emotion. Someone contacted me to ask why I hadn’t drawn all of a particular trail. That comes back to the untrustworthy USGS because: 1) I hadn’t walked that part of the trail, so didn’t have a track. 2) One thing I knew about the route is that it diverges heavily from the USGS line. 3) There are other ways to hike (offline) on USGS maps, many of them just as free as in beer as the ways to hike on OSM. 4) If I draw that trail wrong, it’s less likely it’ll get drawn by someone who knows better. 5) If I don’t draw that trail, it’s less likely someone will know it’s there to hike it at all, so I have no idea if I’m right not to draw it.

Today, I would say I should have drawn it based on USGS. Move it as best I could to where I could see it in imagery. Apply a “fixit” tag and explain. It feels like no one will look at the fixit out here in the western US, but in an ideal world this gets the most information out there with the greatest likelihood of correction. That particular trail should probably be set to intermediate visibility based on the two ends. (Tomorrow I might have a different opinion. It’s complicated. I console myself by knowing the professionals are all over the place too.)

There’s a little emotion to that too, but not from the interaction. It’s just that I turned 18 in 1995 when the USGS 7.5’ maps were at their peak of accuracy and the lesson that they’ve got some errors, some face-palm stupid, some massive, has been long and repetitive. Except for a few specialty maps in a few places, USGS was the gold standard and realizing they’re pretty tarnished is tough.

So it’s not that bad. But I still want that trail back.

Comment from SherbetS on 17 February 2023 at 23:27

has your issue been resolved? can you share the changeset?

Comment from valhikes on 17 February 2023 at 23:54

No, I actually need to do other things today…

It looks like I need to just learn a little more about JOSM and then be careful. Since it’s been a while, there’s been an edit on the little stub of trail that was left, so I’ll have to be extra careful.

The changesets are linked in the text.

Comment from SomeoneElse on 17 February 2023 at 23:59

A visualisation of the deletion is . was mapped as “informal=yes; surface=gravel; trail_visibility=intermediate”. It doesn’t have a “foot” access tag; I guess that would still be “yes”, even though it’s informal?

Various options exist for undeleting the trail exist, such as the undelete plugin in JOSM. However, even if it makes sense to do that it might be useful to review the route - there are a couple of river crossings either side of that might benefit from looking at.

However, I’d also suggest reviewing it in the light of and especially within there. It’s definitely worth discussing the status of it with other mappers in the area (if there are many others - this is a bit of an out-of-the-way location) so that everyone’s on board with any change of status. In particular, I’d expect the current state of the trail to be discussed - it was informal a couple of years ago; if local land managers are advising against access, it may be effectively disused now.

Places for discussion include OSM US’ Slack instance - there’s a “#trails” channel there. More public options include the forum (there are plenty of US mappers there) and the talk-us mailing list.


PS: For technical help with undoing edits and reverts you can always contact OSM’s Data Working Group via (I’m a member of that group). However, the first thing we’d try and make sure happens is that all interested parties talk about it together.

Comment from valhikes on 18 February 2023 at 03:50

@SomeoneElse Thank you very much for the visualization! It’s very frustrating trying to look at something that isn’t there.

The bridge north of that point is a seasonal bridge put up when the water is low enough and taken down before the first big storm. This generally translates to June/July-Sept/Oct. I’ve just applied seasonal tag to it. I added an intermittent tag since apparently that’s been the more popular way to do it. Moveable might be wrong, though? Looks like yes. That’s for a swinging bridge or such. Not for may actually be upstream a short way because it is rebuilt every summer.

The bridge to the south is marked as seasonal on park maps, but it’s really a permanent bridge. It should probably be longer, but I don’t see a problem otherwise.

This trail is left unmaintained, and I can only guess that’s the reason it was marked “informal”. There is a sign at each end that says you can get to the other end in 1.5 miles, so I think it’s important information if someone looks up how that happens, they find out that it involves a lot of fords. It could be called seasonal like the bridges since the creek becomes dangerous to cross in winter. (This really is the crux of the whole thing. There is a sign for the trail, the trail should be mapped. This is especially so since it is dangerous during some of the year and not immediately obvious that it would be since it could theoretically stay on one side of the creek.) It is included in NPS material provided to backpackers when they get a permit. Not only do they not discourage access, they even allow camping along much of this trail (with a permit when the creek is not too high).

I think the NPS does discourage off trail travel in this area, but can’t remember for sure. They do allow travel along the creek from 2 miles upstream of Emerald Ridge to at least the northern seasonal bridge, possibly to the park boundary. The stretch I want to map is the only part that really has a trail formed. Some of the other parts also allow camping with a permit.

I tried to review the PDFs the NPS sent me when I got a permit to backpack. At the time, 2 of the 7 didn’t work. Now 4 of the 7 are corrupted. I can’t make this make sense. There was one that had this trail and all its fords carefully mapped. The maps contained in what I can open are the same source as the ones found here. This is a private individual, but they work closely with the park and the maps are used by the land manager (NPS) with permission, but they are not the land manager. They may have made different choices about what to map than NPS would have.

I finally put in a location for myself and was told there’s all these mappers near to me. Most of them have never made edits and the most recent edit from the rest is 4 years ago. However, there is more far flung interest in Redwood State and National Parks area, plus there may be more that haven’t given a location.

Comment from valhikes on 18 February 2023 at 16:21

I dug up the signs which can be seen here and the good news is the casual hiker isn’t going to be left wondering if their feet are going to get wet nor attempt to thrash through the blackberries and over logs as big as they are trying to stay on one side of the creek.

It also clearly describes a trail that could be said to be both “informal” and “official”. Because there’s always a monkey wrench getting into the gears.

I realized there’s another trail nearby that could be described as both “informal” and “official”. Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a destination for some because it has been in some movies. (Jurassic Park 2, I guess? Endor is much further inland for Star Wars fans.) The trail gets minimal maintenance, but there’s still a few fallen trees to navigate. Small seasonal bridges (boards with a few more boards nailed on the end to give about 6 inches height) are placed over some crossings when the creek is low enough, but otherwise the trail is where people have gone.

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