Be a Map Advocate!

January 02, 2020
Jeremy Apgar, Cartographer
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Be a Map Advocate!
Westchester Trails Map Set Snippet


There is no shortage of trail information on various websites, mobile apps, and social media, but if people don’t know about our maps, a potentially great trail experience could be thwarted by unreliable and outdated information.

My name is Jeremy, and I am a map advocate! I need your help in spreading the word far and wide that trail users should be properly prepared with an accurate, up-to-date Trail Conference map.

So what is so great about Trail Conference maps? Well, I have been the Trail Conference cartographer for more than 12 years, and my general desire in crafting a trail map is to produce a map that is simplistic in design, yet detailed, accurate, and attractive, for use by as broad a group of users as possible. This past April, I was chosen to present a workshop about trail map design at the International Trails Symposium, held in Syracuse. To my surprise, a “filled to capacity” audience attended, with several attendees standing or even sitting on the ground! The Trail Conference’s trail mapping history has uniquely positioned our organization as a leader in trail map best practices, as evidenced not only that day in Syracuse, but more broadly by satisfied map users praising our maps for decades.

Our trail map story starts more than 80 years ago, when Bill Hoeferlin began making trail maps for the New York metropolitan area in the mid-1930s. Bill held many volunteer positions within the Trail Conference, but his outstanding cartographic efforts over nearly 35 years may have had the greatest impact. The Trail Conference took up the baton of quality trail mapping after Bill’s death in 1970. With nearly 50 years of direct trail-mapping experience and more than 850,000 printed-on-Tyvek maps, we have largely learned what does and does not work on trail maps, especially in terms of a user being able to easily understand and use the map. So today, our maps use a simplistic, trail-focused map style with a basic color scheme, including the prominent red trail lines, and typically a simple topographic background of contour lines. The trail information, however, is very detailed, with high-quality trail routes, junction-to-junction trail mileages, and detailed points of interest.

Beyond the best practices of our map design, our maps are also “made by the people who build the trails” and revised regularly, and these are key factors in ensuring the maps we publish are accurate and up-to-date. Dedicated volunteers have always played a key role in the production of our maps and books, and through the years, our publications have developed a reputation for being highly trusted sources of trail information. 

However, no matter how well-designed, accurate, or up-to-date a map is, it does not do any good unless trail users know about it!  In the past decade, we have certainly made great strides in getting our maps out to trail users in formats beyond our traditional printed-on-Tyvek map sets. This includes our Avenza Maps app maps with more than 200,000 downloads, free handout maps produced in conjunction with park partners, and large kiosk maps to greet visitors at trailheads. Even with all these points of distribution, there are still plenty of trail users who don’t know that our great maps exist.

Today, trail users get their information from a variety of resources, including popular mobile apps like AllTrails and GaiaGPS, Google Maps and other websites, and even social media postings by other trail users. If someone searches for a specific trail, they might possibly find Trail Conference maps and information, but they may instead see a trail route on a Google Map, find a loop hike suggestion in a trail app, or find a downloadable map from the park’s website. While these other sources of trail information can sometimes be sufficient for a trail user’s needs, their reliability may be mixed, and they can often be a source of inaccurate and outdated trail information. The Google Map might show an incorrect parking access point, the trail app might only show some of the trails within a park, and the park-created map may not have been developed with best practices in mind.

There is no denying that these other resources can be useful or provide additional functionality beyond what the Trail Conference currently offers. However, the primary point we want to stress to trail users is that a Trail Conference map is one crucial component of being sure to have the most complete and up-to-date trail information. If you like a particular app or other source of trail information, just be sure to also include a Trail Conference map as one of your resources.

Spread the Word

So now more than ever, when people seem to be getting out on the trails in greater numbers and many may not be aware of the Trail Conference, we need people like you to be strong advocates for our maps! Being a map advocate can take many different forms, and here are a few suggestions for ways you can help educate trail users:

  • Be sure to have a print or digital map when out on the trails, and if you encounter others, don’t be afraid to show off your great map! Our digital maps can be downloaded out on the trail if there is good cell coverage.
  • If you are a member of a club or trail outing group, ask around to make sure other members, especially newer members, have the latest maps.
  • If you lead hikes, suggest that hikers have a Trail Conference map.
  • When discussing trails on social media, mention which Trail Conference maps you used, and recommend Trail Conference maps to people who may be seeking advice about app and map resources.
  • For any volunteers out on the trail, if people stop to ask what you are doing, take out a map and ask where they might be heading to/coming from.
  • If you know a trailhead kiosk that could benefit from a Trail Conference map, reach out to someone at the park and suggest they add our map.
  • If you frequent a park visitor center, outdoor retail store, bookstore, coffee shop, deli, or other shop and think they should sell our maps to reach more trail users, talk to the shop manager and contact us to let us know we should reach out to the shop.
  • Consider joining our volunteer publications efforts if you have more time to dedicate to developing and marketing our publications.

To those of you who have been strong map advocates, thank you! You are a big part of the reason our maps and books have continued to be the go-to trusted source for quality trail information. As we move into our 100th year, it is as important as ever to responsibly educate trail users, so please consider being a map advocate if you aren’t already!