Call me sentimental and old-school, but a part of the digital movement that saddens me most is the inevitable end to the production of folding and roll-up paper maps, especially those depicting backcountry trails, favorite mountain hikes and hunting spots from years gone by.
There’s something special and nostalgic about unfolding or unrolling a huge topographic map over a kitchen table or pickup truck hood while planning a hunt, hike or exploration. It just isn’t the same with a GPS or iPad app.
In a digital age “sign of the times,” many government-produced charts and maps are already following in the footsteps of the horse and buggy.
Just this week, the U.S. Forest Service issued a press release touting its new visitor maps for Android and iOS devices.
According to the announcement, the Forest Service’s digital maps are part of USDA’s effort “toward reaching President Obama’s initiative to create a paperless government that also provides the American public with better, more accessible information.”
Through the new app, users may purchase and download maps online and even use them based on location when GPS is available. The maps allow users to measure distance and area, find coordinates, open a current view in Google maps, plot place marks, add notes, enter their own data and add photos as attributes. Almost 700 Forest Service maps are available through the app.
Cool, right? Still, it’s just not the same as pulling a worn and well-used old paper map from the pocket of your backpack or saddlebag, and consulting it for trails and directions like an old and trusted hunting companion.
In addition to land-based maps, just a few weeks ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Coast Survey, which creates and maintains more than 1,000 nautical charts of U.S. coastal waters, announced it would no longer print traditional lithographic (paper) nautical charts, starting April 12, 2014.
Lithographic nautical charts—available in marine chandleries and other stores—have been printed by the U.S. government since 1862. The agency said its decision to stop production was based on declining demand for paper charts, the increasing use of digital and electronic charts, as well as federal budget cutbacks.
“These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraphs and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”
— Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter, set in 1880s South Dakota