California on the Map
When it comes to navigating parks, forests and wilderness areas, hikers
and bikers throughout California have come to rely on the directions
they receive from Tom Harrison (M.A., '85).
The cartographer has a reputation for making what one park official
describes as "the Cadillac of maps."
Harrison specializes in maps of California's parks, forests and wilderness
areas. "The last maps of these areas were made in the mid-'80s,"
he explains, pointing out that while trailheads, water and roadways
undergo frequent change, government-issued maps do not. "Parks
aren't in the business of making maps," Harrison says. They lack
the time and resources to do what he does: create full-color topographic
maps, complete with shaded relief to highlight elevation.
"Tom cares about specific details and he's very accurate,"
says Ellen McElhinny, a lecturer in geography and environmental studies.
She carries Harrison's maps on her hikes, as do many of her students.
Part of the maps' appeal lies in the details, from the location of drinking
water to specifics on where dogs, bikes and horses are permitted.
Harrison saw the potential market for his maps while working as a park
ranger in Marin County -- a job he quit to develop his mapmaking skills
in SF State's graduate program in geography. "The faculty have
high standards. They don't tolerate sloppy work," he says, pointing
to his advisor, Professor Emeritus Hans Meihoefer.
Harrison launched his business with a single map of Angel Island. Today,
after two decades of fieldwork, he sells maps of 48 popular California
backcountry spots. Each starts with the same process. With the aid of
a measuring wheel, topographical map, digital voice recorder and Global
Positioning System, Harrison calculates each 1-foot increment from trail
junctions, noting his measurements digitally. At home he refers to his
notes and makes changes on computer-generated maps. He sells about 75,000
maps each year to individuals, parks and outdoor-focused retail outlets.
The cartographer seems to have an innate sense of direction. "My
wife [Barbara Harrison (M.A., '85)] noticed
that I never turn on lights," he says. "I always seem to know
where I am."
For more information: www.tomharrisonmaps.com