Cleveland Metroparks To Initiate Drone Program

Flickr.com photo by Shannon Tompkins
Flickr.com photo by Shannon Tompkins
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Small, unmanned aircraft – commonly called “drones” --- are often used for military and commercial use.

Now they’re going to serve as environmental surveillance…for Cleveland Metroparks.

Officials with the parks and the Ohio-Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center are starting a monitoring program using drones in parts of the Hinckley Reservation. The drone itself weighs just 1.5 lbs., will fly upwards to 400 feet, and photograph terrain that’ll help park officials assess the overall health of their parklands.

“They’re going to take photographs and data and produce maps that are ten to forty times more detailed than Google Maps satellite imagery," says David Gallagher, Chief of Staff at the Ohio-Indiana UAS Center. "And look for invasive species. I know honeysuckle, it gets in these parks, sucks all the nutrients from the native species here, it’s a real problem. They’d like to eradicate that.”

Cleveland Metroparks is footing the bill. Right now they’ve paid $25,000 for the drone, and will be spending more when they determine the staff size for the program.

Steven Mather is Geographic Information Systems Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He says the drone shouldn’t disrupt park visitors’ experience.

"The drones are only in the air for 50 minutes at a time," says Mather. "So you send it up, you do your survey, and then start processing the data. So this is not something that’s persistent or stays in the area. They allow us to access areas that are difficult to access otherwise.”

Mather says the drone will likely start with the Hinckley Reservation's Bellus Road field, and the Rising Valley wetland complex.

Meanwhile, David Gallagher says representatives with Five Rivers Metroparks out of Dayton have inquired about drones. The UAS and park officials will meet on the matter next month.

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