As a regular hiker and volunteer on the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota, Keith Myrmel kept running into fellow trekkers who were guided along the 310-mile footpath using tiny pocket maps or pages from the trail guidebook showing only small portions of the route.
“When we’d stop to talk, everyone seemed to wonder why there wasn’t a full-sized map, showing the whole trail,” said Myrmel, who resides in Arden Hills. As a retired landscape architect, and an artist with experience in cartography, Myrmel had a solution: He’d make a such a map.
As these kinds of projects often go, the result ended a bit differently than Myrmel envisioned. But it must have struck a chord — his original printing of 200 maps quickly sold out this winter (at $29.95 each). A second order of 1,000 is expected to hit stores in early April.
When he started drawing the map, Myrmel said his goals were fairly simple. “I initially decided the trail, campsites, and related information for hikers was primarily what I wanted to put on it,” he said. “I thought the rivers and water sources were important, and roads, parking and access points were needed for planning purposes.”
For those landmarks, Myrmel used mainly calligraphy pens, colored pencils and markers, but had to experiment to find the best medium to color the land and the water areas. “I tried markers, oil paints, acrylic and water color paints,” he said. “The only one that worked well was water colors, but that wrinkled the paper. I spent a lot of time spraying water on the backside of the map and using weights and newsprint to try and flatten the vellum paper. And I reworked the colors three or four times to get the effect I wanted.”
Myrmel initially figured it would take him a couple of weeks to create the map, but that stretched into months as he expanded its scope, adding hiking and transportation tips. He also added helpful bits of information, such as the location of cellphone towers and trail registers, which were not available on any existing hiking maps. He noted landmarks all up and down the North Shore, including the sites of shipwrecks in Lake Superior.
The map also took on an artistic slant. He designed an ornate border and added quotations from well-known outdoors people.
“The border became an intentional addition to show the concern for the land, earth and nature,” he said. “I think those are shared bonds we have as hikers, backpackers, kayakers and canoers, and all users of these North Shore resources.”
In total, that meant the original of the map ended up BIG. “It ran 13 feet long and 2 feet wide,” Myrmel said.
For commercial distribution, Myrmel reduced it to 26-by-40 inches, with the map split in two, and had it printed on waterproof paper. “It worked out better to do it this way,” he said. “The sheet can be cut in half and spliced together if people want a long wall map, or they can use either half or both on the trail.”
Once printed, Myrmel began selling copies through a Facebook notice, but also loaded up his car and headed up the North Shore, stopping at state park offices, gear shops and outfitters.
“It was just kind of a little road trip to gauge the interest,” he said, “so I was a little surprised when I ran out of maps before I got all that far.” He brought 10 maps into the gift shop at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors, Myrmel said; when one was unrolled on the counter, three people bought copies before the maps could even be put on the shelves.
Myrmel said he also is surprised at how the map is getting used. Even with its decorative aesthetic, Myrmel figured its main function would be either on the trail or on the wall, where hikers could stick it with pins or notations about where they had hiked. But just as many people are buying the map with the intention of framing it as art.
While the Superior Hiking Trail Association was not involved in the production of the map, because of Myrmel’s history with trail advocates, it did allow him to use their trademarked logo, something it rarely does. “But Keith’s map is a work of art and qualifies as a very rare case,” said Jo Swanson, the association’s trail development director. “And we do have a copy hanging in our office — every time I look at it, I see something new.”
Jeff Moravec is a freelance writer and photographer from Minneapolis. Reach him at email@example.com.
Where to find the map: Online at kjmyrmel.webs.com. It also has been for sale at outdoors stores, including Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. It’s been added to the collection of the John R. Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota.