This a guest blog post featuring OpenStreetMap community member Dara Carney-Nedelman. Do you have a story to tell? OpenStreetMap US news or info to share? Message us at team@openstreetmap.us and we’ll work with you to craft a blog post to share with the community!


Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team Members (Left to Right- Liz Moughon, Dylan Roberts, and Dara Carney-Nedelman) at a pre-conference event for 2014 Eastern Regional Tennessee Geographic Information Council (TNGIC) GIS Forum

Calling all students young and old, your summer plans may not have been what you imagined, but now is the time to learn a new skill- MAPPING!

Hi, I’m Dara Carney-Nedelman and I’ve been developing my mapping skills since 8th grade but am new to the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. So why is a beginner level mapper writing on the OSM US blog? Well it all boils down to my membership on the Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team. From a young age I’ve experienced the personal and professional benefits of GIS, and quickly learned it would quite literally take me places! I’m passionate about sharing this skill set that impacts the globe, and as a beginner mapper I want to share joining the OSM community from my perspective for prospective mappers.

Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team members collecting data for their Top Ten Trails map (Left to Right: Dara Carney-Nedelman, Lydia Huggins, Liz Moughon, and Dylan Roberts)

In case you are a prospective mapper and are not familiar with OSM, here’s a link to a short video from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) that simply explains humanitarian mapping, and is at the heart of the reason why I am a volunteer mapper. My hardest hurdle to overcome when trying to explain OSM is that individuals think they need to be a geography major or to be a tech wizard to do it. While I know there are more advanced versions of open source mapping software out there, what I have used has been simple and easy to learn and if it is not there’s a simple tutorial a click away.

Now to share my story of how and why I joined the OSM community. We’ll have to retrace my steps of mapping from middle school to high school to college and now in the “real world” of adulting.

In 2010 I became a charter member of the Unicoi Country 4-H GPS Team. Our goal then was to map the 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail to promote outdoor recreation in our community through free and public information. At the time I had no idea of the supportive mapping community I’d be joining, or the skill set I would gain. We continued to make maps centered around benefiting our community which took us to mapping conferences regionally, statewide, and even internationally to Bolivia. The community at these conferences took us under their wing. The GIS Professionals were genuinely interested in our conference presentations, even though looking back now I realize how inexperienced we were. They valued our perspective, no matter our age or training!

Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team 2011 Map of the Appalachian Trail in Unicoi County

That is what I have grown to appreciate in the mapping community, members value other’s perspectives no matter their background. In my undergrad while I didn’t major in geography, I still tried to stay active in the mapping community by joining The University of Tennessee’s Club Geography and taking geography courses. What I wish I would have known then is that there is an organization called YouthMappers, which would have allowed me to take advantage of my passions in mapping, volunteer work, and global awareness all in one!

My first YouthMappers event with Humanitarian Mapping Society at The George Washington University

Thankfully a few months after college I ran across another open source mapping community, Missing Maps. I stumbled into my local American Red Cross office, and mentioned I had mapping experience. Little did I know that would lead me to one training and then co-leading a mapathon of over 20 people a couple of months later. That’s how simple it is to learn the basics of OSM! All I needed was one training and a bit of experimenting myself, and I was off giving a general overview to new mappers.

My college friends are deciding what to do this summer with cancelled internships and the youth in my community are trying to find ways to still take advantage of their summer. Well I have one recommendation for them all, checkout OSM! It’s free, will leave you with tangible skills, and you can learn about the world around you.

The community you will join as a mapper has continually amazed me. Not only are there individual networks and initiatives for any interest you have, the people are also incredibly supportive! All throughout my youth I felt immense support from the conference goers when I gave presentations, and the GIS community was extremely supportive of the teams I was a part of. I’ve found this true in my short time as part of the OSM community too!

My first OSM US Mappy Hour in March, 2020

An example of a particular mapping group working towards a common cause are OSM US community contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement through mapping. You can learn about it by connecting to this linked OSM Wiki page. I learned about this initiative by attending the OSM US Mappy Hour at the end of June. A follow-up meeting on diversity is planned for July 22. You can sign up to join here. For the students out there that want to support other students you can map historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the specific project is linked here but you can also learn more about it on the wiki page. The initiative towards mapping HBCUs is because they are undermapped, and mapping another college/university can also lead to collaboration and a broadened understanding of another community if you reach out to the university you are mapping.

Today’s world requires us to band together, and I strongly think you can do that through mapping. Whether it be your community or a community 5,000 miles away, mapping brings us all closer and shows us that we are more alike than we are different. Learn a new marketable skill, build a network, benefit your community, and gain global awareness all from the safety and comfort of your home through…MAPPING!


Thanks to Dara for sharing her story! Interested in being our next guest contributor? Message us at team@openstreetmap.us and we’ll work with you to craft a blog post to share with the community!

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Photos © Justin Miller unless otherwise noted