How to Create an Area Map

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An area map is a detailed map defining the characteristics and features of a specific location. These maps focus more on topography and natural landmarks, which can be particularly useful for hikers, campers and those working in parks and recreation or environmental conservation fields. Creating an area map is an adventure in seeing the landscape of the focused area so that others will also be able to enjoy it.

Things You'll Need

  • General region map
  • Pencil or pen
  • Graph paper
  • Plain paper
  • Compass
  • Watch
  • Pedometer
  • Clipboard

Mark the initial boundaries of the area you wish to map on paper. Choose a geographic direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) to begin your walk through the area. Note your location on the compass as you start. Draw a basic spiral on your paper that will guide your path. Use this along your route for notations. Set your pedometer to "0."

Mark your start time on your watch or stopwatch. Walk through the area the first time, moving in a spiral from the outer edges of the area toward the center of the area, as much as the landscape allows. As you walk, begin noting the shape and direction of the paths you take and ones you cross. Note them on the graph paper at their approximate locations.

Look for and note key landmarks both on a separate list and on the graph spiral where they occur along your path. Some landmarks to note are river crossings or patterns of the river, where it bends or runs in a straight line; large or distinctively shaped rock formations; and tree clearings or thick clusters and trails.

Note the time, pedometer distance and compass direction at each landmark. Sketch shapes and formations as you go, drawing them on a separate page and labeling each in coordination with the graph map.

Finish the first walk through and take a break. Note the time, distance and location. Close your eyes and retrace your path, noting with your mind’s eye what you saw, heard and smelled. Add any additional details to your sketches and map as you recall them.

Take a partner with you on the second walk through who is also fully armed with drawing materials. Walk the path in the reverse direction from your first pass. Add any details or new information to your map. Along the route, stop and discuss what both of you have seen. A second set of eyes and a new perspective on the route will help catch things you may have overlooked the first time.

Compare the sketches and notes and overlay them into one cohesive map, adding color, distance markings and landmarks in their relative locations. Redraw the map in its complete form and details. Include your landmarks list or sketches as additional information to the area map.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the area is small enough, spend the first walk just looking. Add drawing and noting on the second walk through. Add a partner on a third walk through. Take your time to concentrate on observing before you start recording. This improves what you see.
  • Allow enough time to complete your walk throughs with sufficient daylight. Be careful of taking on too much. Choose a small enough area to map and then add to it later if needed.

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