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Lin-wood student wins national online mapping contest for middle schoolers

Union Leader Correspondent

July 09. 2018 1:34PM
Andrew Wilson, who will be a ninth grader this fall at the Lin-wood Public School, poses in the school library on July 5 with his winning entry in the national Esri software competition. (John Koziol / Union Leader Correspondent)

LINCOLN – For bringing a lost logging railroad and its colorful owner back to life, a Lin-Wood Public School student has won a national mapping contest for middle schoolers.

Andrew Wilson, 14, who will be a ninth grader this fall at the LPS, was chosen from 180 entries in the second annual Esri competition.

Esri is a California-based company that creates mapping and spatial analytics software.

Wilson’s prize includes airfare and five-days of accommodations for himself, his mom, Jackie, and teacher Carol Smith to go to San Diego for Esri’s international Users Conference. There, from July 9-13, Wilson will deliver two presentations, one for the public, and one for educators, about his interactive history of the Gordon Pond Railroad and the Johnson Lumber Company.

A cartography and train buff who works summers at the Hobo Railroad, Wilson’s journey to the West Coast began last November, when he and four other students enrolled in Smith’s inaugural Digital Skills class.

Smith tasked the students to create a “story-map journal” using Esri’s ArcGIS software and Wilson, knowing there once had been a logging railroad directly behind his house in North Woodstock, chose it as his topic.

But when the class ended two months later, Wilson, who knew of the Esri competition, was the only student to continue developing his project with the goal of entering it in the New Hampshire Esri round, which he won and with it, $100 cash.

In the national round, Wilson came out on top, said Smith, because the judges were impressed by his outreach to local community members, among them historian and author Bill Gove; the number of sources cited; and the sheer volume of work.

Online at, the journal is “‘a cross between PREZI,’ which he called the new PowerPoint, ‘and a normal paper map,’” said Wilson. As a reader moves through the piece, he or she can drill down for detailed information and images, including maps of both the Gordon Pond Railroad, the Johnson Lumber Company and, depending on your source, its famous or infamous founder George Johnson, a timber barron notorious for his shrewd business dealings.

According to Wilson, the railroad had about 15 miles of track through steep terrain in both Lincoln and Woodstock and was operated between 1901 and 1916 by a lumber company, which cut some 150 million feet of spruce board.

Over time, as nature undid the clear-cut damage inflicted by timber barons like Johnson, the Gordon Pond Railroad began to disappear into the surrounding White Mountains, but Wilson, using a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, was able to find much of it. He entered the GPS coordinates into ArcGIS to both record it and to find existing information.

A day before he, his mom and Smith left for California, Wilson said he was excited to attend the Esri conference, which is expected to draw almost 20,000 attendees. GPS and GIS, Smith explained, underlie nearly all life and are used by anyone who wants or needs to map something, be it in academia, municipal planning, disaster relief, and/or national defense.

Wilson, who is both an alpine and cross-country skier, sees himself doing more story-map journals in the future, but what he really wants to be, he said, is a railroad engineer.

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