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Backpacker Magazine – May 2010

The Future of Maps

Four cutting-edge cartographers--from Google's explorer-in-residence to Tom Harrison himself--help us chart the course of the next revolution in wilderness mapping.

by: Kris Wagner and Jonathan Dorn

Peter Birch's map of attempts on Mt. Ritter.
Peter Birch's map of attempts on Mt. Ritter.
Peter Birch. (Jamie Kripke)
Peter Birch. (Jamie Kripke)
Tom Harrison.
Tom Harrison.
Fred Zahradnik. (Kreg Ulery)
Fred Zahradnik. (Kreg Ulery)

BP Are any spots on the planet still terra incognita?

Fred I’ve heard about biologists finding places—using Google Earth—that looked like they weren’t explored. They pinpointed certain parts of the globe and were able to explore them electronically first; then they went there and found new species.

Peter
That was in Mozambique. One of the magical things about Google Earth is that there’s all this data available—satellite imagery that’s been gathered over the years that no one looks at. Some government agency, somewhere, sometime, commissioned this one shot to be taken, and it was never looked at again. This has created a new hobby for some people: looking at cool stuff on the globe. People discover things all the time—an ancient fish trap off the coast of Wales, Roman ruins, and so on.

BP You could argue that people around the world are more involved with maps than ever before and that today’s tools are democratizing mapmaking.


Larry That’s a good point. With the original 7.5-minute topo series, the government did all the work, soup to nuts. We acquired new aerial photography, we sent our employees out to do field surveys. That’s extremely expensive and very slow. That kind of business model just isn’t going to fly today.

Peter
I agree. We’re entering an era of the citizen cartographer  where you don’t have to be an authoritative government agency to produce a map. There are people all over the world who are out there hiking, gathering local knowledge, sharing their experiences.




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READERS COMMENTS

lol
Nov 24, 2011

hi

Greg
May 29, 2010

I like to have all trails on maps. They can provide a reference point for navigation or an escape/rescue route if someone becomes injured. You can leave the county, ownership or hunting lease info out for me.. I own TOPO! software but I feel the maps are limited by the amount of area I can print. They are great for the one hike or bike ride.

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