Last week I had to check out a 20 acre piece of land in South East Ohio. The property was all wooded and had a lot of underbrush – typical, remote Ohio acreage for sale – see picture below. It was really hard to navigate through the trees without the help of a GPS receiver. Truth be told, I would have been lost numerous times without a GPS.
On this specific trip, I used my Android phone’s GPS, however, that’s very risky. If you can’t get cell coverage, you can’t download the map and you are limited to the coordinates (latitude, longitude) for navigation, without the help of a map backdrop.
Many rural properties in Ohio and most of the States west of here are based on the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). This is a network of squares, whose basic units are townships and sections.
When you try to locate a piece of vacant land you can research its legal description and location in the public property records in the auditor’s or assessor’s offices. Large rural properties that are not located in a subdivision are simply described as sections or part thereof (half, quarter).
Here’s an example of a legal description for the SE Ohio property in the picture above: Being the North one-half of the Northwest quarter of the Southwest quarter of Section 26, containing 20 acres, more or less.
How can you get the coordinates of the corners of a section, so that you can locate the parcel with your GPS receiver?
The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) maintains a database of section corners and a mapping system for public use. You can find it at the GeoCommunicator.gov website. If you click on Site Mapper, it will open an interactive GIS of the United States with many different data layers including the PLSS.
To actually get coordinates of section corners, however, I prefer to use this free website: Earthpoint.us
There are 5 simple steps to display the coordinates of section corners:
- Go to Township and Range
- Scroll down the page until you see Convert Township, Range and Section to Longitude and Latitude
- Now fill in the required data concerning State, Principal Meridian (anyone), Township, Range and Section – you can get this information from the public records. It is usually part of the property records that can be found online in any auditors office
- When you click “View” it will generate a list of coordinates for the Township corners and Section corners, as well as the centroids.
- In order to map any of these corners, go to Google Maps and copy and paste the coordinates into the Google search bar. Google will display the map with a green arrow pointing at the location you are looking for.
If your property is just a quarter or half of a quarter of a section, you can simply compute the center between 2 corner points by calculating the average of their longitudes and latitudes.
I need to make a few disclaimers here. The coordinates published by BLM are not guaranteed. They only will serve as a rough guide to locate any existing boundary markers in the area. The section corner coordinates will give you a good idea of where the property is located (maybe within 10 ft). To get its exact boundary lines you should always hire a professional surveyor.