MN GIS/LIS Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Charlie Parson (2004)

Charlie is entering his 29th and last year of full-time teaching of geography at Bemidji State University. Over 150 of his students developed a passionate interest in GIS and computer cartography - usually with a strong background in either physical geography or planning. While they were his students, he involved them in real-world internships and projects that benefited agencies surrounding the Bemidji area. Those students have gone on to key roles in state and local government across Minnesota, in academia, in the federal government, and in the private sector. In 1986 he spent a leave of absence at the Land Management Information Center to work on developing partnerships among state agencies; that effort led to the first Minnesota catalog of spatial data and an increased sense of cooperation between agencies and various levels of government. The predecessor of this organization, the MN Natural Resource GIS Consortium, developed in part out of that effort and Charlie served as its first annual chair in 1987, staying for a second term in 1988. Our conference and workshops have been enriched by several of his presentations. He returned to serve on the Board of the Consortium, in 2001 and as its chair in 2003.

His interest in GIS began in 1969 when SYMAP was being used in his graduate program at the University of Iowa. The big issue then was how to get the money to buy a digitizer, which cost about $24,000 dollars so that the geographers could better develop their base maps for thematic mapping. That was resolved in 1974, as he was heading out the door to SUNY Buffalo for his first job as a professor. SUNY had an actual GIS lab, headed by Duane Marble, and was working with the New York LUNR data. Charlie became the head of the land use and population projection committee for the regional clean water act project to locate future trunk sewers. The key to that lay in allocating populations to watersheds when the data were all organized by townships and municipalities from the Census of 1970. Their solution was to create a population dot map, create Thiesen polygons around the dots, and overlay watershed boundaries on the polygons, measuring the portions of the polygons that lay in respective watersheds with each polygon representing one thousand persons. Population projections could be handled similarly. The land use mix for each watershed was obtained from the LUNR maps and projected to change as the population densities changed. Based on these studies, Erie and Niagara Counties received millions of dollars in section 208 funds to build sewer mains and plants.

Charlie arrived at Bemidji State University in the fall of 1976 and began working with the limited digital mapping resources which were available on the Minnesota State University System´┐Żs mainframe computers. SYMAP and ELAS, for mapping and image analysis were the extent of the software. MLMIS came to his attention and Bemidji began teaching about it, finally implementing GIS via modem in 1982 with help from the Land Management Information Center and an internship with the Leech Lake Reservation. They acquired PC ArcInfo and EPPL7 in 1986 and began digitizing projects for area agencies. In 1989, Bemidji geography students completed revising the digital land use maps for Beltrami and Clearwater Counties as one of the first projects funded under county water planning by the state. Since then he and his students have carried out several projects for Minnesota DNR, PCA, LCMR, Chippewa National Forest, Superior National Forest, Aggasiz National Wildlife Refuge, as well as local recreation clubs and schools.

Charlie's Lifetime Achievement Award plaque reads: " Charlie Parson, Instilling Confidence in Students and Fostering Communication Across the GIS Community".

2004 Lifetime Award recipient Charlie Parson with nominator Tim Loesch.


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