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Sac State Geography students create maps for new American River trail guide

Professor and Chair of Geography Matt Schmidtlein (from left), student Andrew Hernon, author Ashley Shult Langdon and Professor of Geography Anna Klimaszewki-Patterson hold copies of Langon's new book "Mildly Scenic." Six Sacramento State Geography students created 18 maps of the lower American River for the book. (Courtesy photo)

During the pandemic, Ashley Shult Langdon spent months exploring rambling paths, hidden trails and other wild spaces along the lower American River. She documented the locations of beaches, parking lots, benches and bathrooms. She noted places where salmon, river otters and herons gathered.

The information she gathered eventually became the basis for her new book, “Mildly Scenic,” which offers outdoor enthusiasts new ways to enjoy the lower American River and its surrounding greenbelt.

The final step was to produce detailed maps. With neither the knowledge nor the software to create them, she turned to Sacramento State’s Geography department for help – and got much more than she anticipated. Department Chair Matt Schmidtlein and Professor Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson offered to make the project the center of an upper-division course last fall.

Cover of "Mildly Scenic" book.

By the time the semester ended, Klimaszewski-Patterson and her students had created 18 original maps that are prominently featured in the just-released trail guide.

“The collaboration with Sac State was a game-changer for me,” said Langdon. “Matt’s and Anna’s energy for the project matched mine. I was thrilled.”

Langdon began exploring the lower American River – the section of the river between Folsom Dam and downtown Sacramento – during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep her young children busy when schools and playgrounds were closed. Many of the trails she discovered had never been published in a guide or on a county map.

She collaborated with graphic designer Greg Traverso to produce the book, which offers “bite size adventures” such as morning trail runs, short hikes, and picnic and swimming opportunities.

The mapping project fit perfectly with Sac State’s mission to serve the community, while also providing students an opportunity to engage in real-world work.

“I really want to make sure our students understand what it’s like to work in this field, to have clients and bosses,” said Klimaszewski-Patterson. “This was a real project with a specific timeline and set of objectives. We needed to figure out how to make Ashley’s vision come to life.”

Langdon had documented her river wanderings and findings on a running, cycling and hiking app, but was unsure how to accurately place them on a map. The students and their professor converted her information into detailed maps using their cartographic skills and specialized software.

The project was daunting at first, but it ultimately empowered students, the professors said.

“They became detectives, and found data I never thought they would find,” said Klimaszewski-Patterson, including equestrian and nature trails, bridges and even trash cans.

By creating the maps, the six participating students gained confidence in their skills, said Schmidtlein. When they were finished, they presented their findings to Langdon, who was ecstatic about the results.

“One of the most exciting things to me was seeing our students solving problems and realizing they had the capacity to do it,” he said. “They walked out of that class knowing they have what it takes to do these things professionally.”

Without Sac State’s help, “Mildly Scenic” likely would have been long delayed, said Langdon. It is now available for purchase in bookstores and online, including  Langdon’s website,

“This was a win-win-win, and so much fun,” she said. “The students, professors, authors and designers all benefitted from the project.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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