A Google Earth computer software upgrade now makes it possible for users to do a virtual fly-over of the Steamboat Springs area using detailed satellite and aerial photographs.
Steamboat has always been on the map of Google Earth, a Web-based three-dimensional geographic map and information tool that Google launched in the summer of 2005. But until now, low quality-images were used for the Steamboat region. Google Earth is constantly adding more detailed imagery, and in recent weeks, photos of Routt County were added that show people walking downtown. Based on the stage of some of the construction projects taking place in the images, the satellites or planes snapped the images sometime last summer.
"It's cool for sure," said Robert Felinczak, geographic information systems coordinator for Routt County. "They're basically just taking MapQuest to a different level."
Felinczak uses some of the same technology that Google Earth uses to assist Routt County officials with things such as regional planning and environmental analysis.
There are local commercial and business applications for GIS and Google Earth technology, as well.
Google Earth is a free software download, but the company also sells versions with advanced features.
Google did not respond to a request for an interview.
Like MapQuest, Google Earth can provide driving directions and its Fly To feature will fly users from the origin to the destination. Users can zoom to any place on the planet, and can choose to turn on labels for various roads, landmarks and businesses. The view can be tilted to see different perspectives and changes in
elevation. 3-D building imagery is available in 38 U.S. cities.
The detailed images that Google Earth added of Routt County include downtown Steamboat, but detail is still lacking in many areas, such as the Steamboat Ski Area and the town of Hayden.
Felinczak guessed it was just a matter of time before more images are added.
"The main reason for that is we are not a major metropolitan area," said Gavin Malia, GIS coordinator for the city of Steamboat. "If you look at Denver for instance, there is much better resolution."
Google Earth serves as another option for people that use aerial images for work or pleasure.
"Google Earth is a simplified version of what we run," Malia said. "Will it be useful for the public? Sure. Absolutely."
Routt County planner Chad Phillips said the Google Earth software would be another option for local planners.
"In the past, I didn't really use it too much because the resolution was so bad," Phillips said. "This is what the Internet should be all about."
It is helpful to have remote rural roads mapped and labeled, he said.
"It looks like this is one of the best sources of color aerials that we have right now," Phillips said.
The city of Steamboat and Routt County both have GIS Web sites of their own. Steamboat's site has even higher resolution imagery than Google Earth for the area inside the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District. Those images were shot in 2003. Another important element of the city's site is that it is linked with information from the Routt County Assessor's Office. Users can click on the image of the parcel and it shows information such as who owns the parcels and what they paid for it. It is a feature widely used by Steamboat's real estate community and helps real estate agents such as Ulrich Salzgeber get information to their clients, some of whom are purchasing properties without seeing them first.
"The more imagery, the more you're helping them in determining where and what they are purchasing," Salzgeber said. "There were two properties that I have helped someone purchase in the last year, and they still haven't been to the properties."