National Forest Service map sizes too large

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David Senesac

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National Forest Service map sizes too large

by David Senesac » Sat Sep 08, 2012 10:14 pm

I recently bought replacements for Sierra, Stanislaus, and Inyo National Forests maps here in California. I have a few revisions of older maps for those forests going back a few decades. The map scales continue to be the traditional 1 inch equals 2 mile scale and are not topographic. National Forests do put out topographic versions for their smaller wilderness area maps that are usually at 1 inch per mile. Over a decade there has often been considerable changes in various boundaries, policy areas, roads, and trails that make obtaining new maps useful. The information on these 3 maps themselves is better than it has ever been as mapping technologies continue to improve. Particularly important to this person is all now show not only national forest service areas in special highlighting color but also BLM, state, and various federal lands, with the remaining private lands un-highlighted. The new maps are on some type of plasticed paper that make them somewhat water resistant, a good improvement. I do have a couple of issues with the map size and folding I would like to see changed.

First the maps are larger than ever even though scales have always been the same. The 2010 Inyo NF map is 45x44 inches, 2011 Sierra NF map 36x48 inches, and the 2012 Stanislaus NF map 36x44 inches. The reason is because they are increasingly adding so much non-map information on the maps that their maps are no longer on both sides but usually just on one. The result are maps about twice the size of a couple decades ago. For instance the 1986 Sierra NF map is 26x36 inches. A large map is fine if plastered on a wall and for that purpose having all the map on one side of the paper eliminates having to buy two maps and then taping them together. However as any map gets larger, it becomes more awkward for field use. And of course far more of us use maps in the field versus putting them on a wall. Especially when sitting in such confined locations as inside a vehicle or tent. Or even outside when there is some flat terrain to unfold a map down on the ground because even a slight breeze can cause a map to flap around annoyingly. Thus putting a map on both sides of paper in order to reduce size ought to be one of the most important considerations for their map designers.

If putting national forests maps on walls is an important issue, they ought simply issue two versions. The primary cost in maps once a design is finished is paper size and ink so these larger maps are also costing more for them to produce. Accordingly costs are rising. Currently all 3 of these maps are reasonably sold for $10.75 over the counter at NF visitor centers. However REI sells them for $14 to $18 each and other online dealers at least $14. A couple decades ago these maps were $4 to $6 bucks. In any case I'm fine with $10.75, but the size is a real issue.

The NF maps have always had some non-map information along with the map and map keys. That is because the irregular shape of NF lands do not conform to any rectangular shapes thus there will always be areas along the edges of maps where they have some space to put other useful information. However some map policy makers apparently thought their maps were a good place to get information in front of the public. And because the maps use multicolored inks, they can add a bunch of big images of scenery and whatever. The Sierra NF map includes these sections on the back side:

Horeseback Riding
Off Highway Vehicles
Bike Riding
The Highway 41 Corrider
The Highway 168 Corrider
Winter Recreation
Dispersed Camping

The map side also has a large chart of a long list of campground features and fascilities. OK, all that info is useful but does it need to be on our maps at the expense of being so huge to make field use awkward? In fact every NF visitor center has the same information available in hand-outs including usually one all encompassing cheaply printed on newsprint multi-page brochure. And the brochures always have more detailed information about each one of those subjects because they have as much newsprint space as they want to add pages for. So why do apparently some in the national forest service think it is so important to redundantly be sticking the same glossy with images watered down information on our maps at the expense of map utility? Is that going any more likely break into the awareness of some of the public that they are not reaching despite all their efforts, so those people are going to stop tossing peanuts out at chipmunks? Instead the rest of us have to deal with these huge maps that are awkward to use and get ripped up and mutilated far more quickly. I do value that extra information but not on a huge map I have to unfold to get at it. Consider the difference in utility of Bob asking wife Madge in the back seat of their sedan with 3 kids in the other seats, to open up the multi-page newsprint brochure to see where a campground is versus unfolding in the back seat one of these huge maps!

OK my second complaint is about the way their large maps are folded. Most folded maps today have gone to the 4x9 inch folded section size so that the height and width are multiples of those dimenstions. Accordingly the Sierra NF map folds the 36 inch height, 36/9= 4 times while the 48 inch width is folded 48/4= 12 times. There are many ways to fold maps but if one goes on the web one will see two methods seem to oddly dominate until one notices the diagrams were all obviously copied from the same military source. The main goal of those two methods is map protection and are mainly concerned with smaller maps. So those methods fold up a map so the printed map is least likely to become affected by handling. Important on the battlefield or for some pirate going back to dig up his gold and ruby booty. For those that dig deeper however, one will find there are other methods widely used like some field maps for geologist at the USGS. The accordian method they use has a main goal of making the printed map surface of large maps easily accessible. That is what the NF map designers ought to be using also. The current maps are folded in a way that one has to totally unfold a map because the outer surface is on the information side. Yes someone there must think map protection ought to be the main goal!

So in my opinion the most functional way for field use of their maps ought to be folding by the accordian method. To do so one uses the same 4x9 inch section size and in just the width dimension folds on creases accordian style across the full width. How the less folded height dimension is folded is not important. So to use a map folded so, one needs to unfold the height dimension. For instance with the 36x48 inch Sierra National Forest map the 4x9 inch bundle height opens along 3 creases to 36x4 inches. Then one can open for viewing any 4+4 inch width section with a crease down the center on either the back or front. So the whole map on either side becomes visually viewable quickly by section without much unfolding effort. Using a map like that also in the long term protects a map more because otherwise totally unfolding a large map each time it is used to get at an actual map section only causes use stress on the map especially at creases. Note on my 3 above maps I refolded them accordian style that is less than ideal because the plastic coated maps tend to resist folding other than they were originally creased.

I would like to hear inputs from other summitpost members as there are many long time map enthusiasts here. Most of us do not use NF maps out in the backcountry but rather topographic maps, especially USGS topos. So this issue is more a front country issue that we climbers and hikers also must deal with regularly. What I would like to do at some point given additional postings on some other popular enthusiast websites is to send a letter to the National Forest headquarters with maybe some snippets of actual member posts for changes of whatever we might come to a consensus on.

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