Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home

Mapping Your Water
(with a little inspiration from Mark Twain and the East River Apprenticeshop)

Detail of Newtown Creek map

"The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day."

 
Mapping your waterway can give you a whole new way of seeing your community. It's also an important civic duty and can be an amazing adventure. First, check out this map (715k pdf) created last summer by middle-school students in the East River Apprenticeshop. It's a map of Newtown Creek, which runs into the East River in New York City. The map shows the creek's neighbors and major polluters. It even charts noise pollution, which shows that a map is whatever you want to make it.

 
Before you map, do some basic exploration:
*

First find the closest waterway to your house.

*

Follow it upstream to its source. You can do it by canoe, by bike or just on foot.

*

Take along a journal and record what you find. Where does it lead? What do you see? Are there secret places or treasures? A lot of trash? What does the water look like? Are there any fish or wildlife? Be sure to write about your experiences as well — was it tough traveling? Did it seem scary, or peaceful? Did you lose the waterway and have trouble finding it again?

 
What do I map?
*

sights and scenery

*

smells and sounds

*

trash and pollution

*

plants and animals (don't forget the bugs)

If you can, bring along a camera and/or a tape recorder so people can see or hear what it is you're talking about. Write detailed descriptions. Think about yourself as a virtual tour guide!

 
More Inspiration

Check out these excellent examples of community maps and walking tours that we found online:
*

Green Maps (both printed and online) utilize Green Map Icons to highlight sites of natural and cultural significance.

*

Talking Street features cellphone walking tours where you download maps and call in for the audio description.

*

Soundwalk CDs are recorded walking tours meant to be listened to on a walkman as you walk through various urban neighborhoods in New York City and Paris.