My "inexpensive" mapping GPS is a Garmin 76CX. I find the accuracy to be reasonable for my needs. You can use the Garmin's software to convert to shp files, or use DNR Garmin Developed by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. DNR Garmin is hand little free program.
I attended Farmworks training this week. For about $250 you can get software to make your PDA into a credible GPS. You might also need a receiver. A bluetooth receiver for under $100 is a good alternative.
I should have a guest writer for today. I can imagine the location and condition of Utility lines would be at the top of my list. The location of trouble spots would be useful to illustrate where capital improvements might be needed. Some municipalities track locations of crime to make decisions about where to concentrate enforcement efforts. Street type and condition, sidewalk type and condition, etc would be useful to keep track of. Parks and park facilities would seem to have potential for record keeping. I am sure that elected and appointed officials can think of many more things to keep track of than I can.
One of the most important features of GIS is that it can make planning and zoning much more manageable. Existing data layers such as soils, floodplain boundaries, and undermined areas, can be used to make decisions about appropriate future development. Planning and zoning is not about telling people what to do with their land, it is about avoiding expensive mistakes both for the developer and the unit of government.
Google earth and google maps are very useful, free maps. You can take data either direction. Either use google earth as your base map, and darw on it, or upload your finished maps to google earth and use it as your background.
The first time you turn on your GIS, it will look very foreign, but with a day or 2 of training, most people can learn what they need to know to get a good start. No special talent or education is needed. Just be willing take the time to learn. Also, keep in mind that even if you can't remember how to do something, the fact that the software is capable of doing something is the first step in the learning process.
You can map the information you want to track in 2 different ways. One way is to use a good base map such as aerial photos or USGS topographic maps and trace your features onto those. Another way is to get a downloadable GPS and collect the data on site. Down load the data and display it on your base map.
GIS's are not really difficult to start using. It is sort of like playing golf or fishing. Once you get started, there is lots of room for improvement. At first you will likely be most concerned with making nice looking maps. This is the easy part. Data analysis can be done by displaying certain data and also by by looking at numbers statistically.
Maps are a representation of what is actually on the ground. As we move into RTK and Survey grade maps, the get close to being what is actually on the ground. The user needs to determine how accurate the maps need to be.
Users need to Remember a GIS is just a database. One of the features in the database is locational information. In designing your database, you need to think about what you want to track at each location you are recording.
CCA, CPSS, CPSEC
Reared on a farm in Southwestern Illinois
Educated at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (1977)
25 years with USDA-SCS (NRCS since 1994)
Soil-Right Consulting Services, Inc. 2005 - 2015
RPM Soils LLC 2016 to present