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Class will teach balloon mapping at state park

By Sally Voth - svoth@nvdaily.com

Spaces are still available to join a high-flying photography course without ever leaving the ground this weekend.

However, some of the shutterbugs might be leaving dry ground.

Denizen Media, a Winchester-based nonprofit, is sponsoring a balloon mapping workshop Saturday and Sunday at the Andy Guest Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville.

"We use photography, film and other digital media to highlight good things that are going on in environmentalism, and just in general kind of helping us to reconnect to our world," Denizen Media Executive Director Beverly Pearce said. "We're working on a photographic book of the Shenandoah River. This is part of that."

Prior to the BP Gulf oil spill, various groups had been working with balloon mapping, according to Pearce.

"After the Gulf spill, the group down there started communicating with some other people around the country who were doing it, and they decided to kind of combine resources and knowledge and figure out the best techniques," she said. "Then they formed a nonprofit corporation called PLOTS."

Western Carolina University research scientist and adjunct faculty member Adam Griffith will be leading the class. He is also a member of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science.

"[PLOTS'] mission is to empower local communities to get their own scientific data using low-cost do-it-yourself techniques," Griffith said.

A camera will be attached by rubber band to a helium balloon, which will then be launched 500-1,000 feet, Pearce said. The camera will take pictures at regular intervals, and those images will be downloaded to a computer.

"Then, you stitch the images together with a software called MapKnitter," Pearce said.

Griffith expects three to six balloons to be launched at the workshop, and said he hopes to launch one from a kayak on the river.

"We will be looking for clues in water as to possible reasons for fish kills," he said. "We will look at the water clarity."

Pearce said Denizen hopes to have future workshops for farmers and for teachers.

The class is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. It is $50, although there are need-based discounts. To register, call 877-9077, or email denizen@denizenmedia.org.

Lunch will be provided, and the state park fee is waived for participants.

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