Here at Purple Lizard Maps, we are often asked, "How do you find all of these amazing spots in the forests?" which is usually followed up with, "So you actually go out there and find all these spots?" The quick answer is, "Pretty much, yes"; the longer answer lies below.
First we find an area in need of a new map. For years we've been hearing stories of recreationalists getting lost in Michaux State Forest, situated between Chambersburg, Gettysburg, and Harrisburg. 2-hour mountain bike rides turn into unplanned, 6-hour epic adventures...a quick trail run turns into an ultra marathon...so many nightmare tales! So we began our research. There are plenty of trails and roads in this forest, and most of them are open to multiple forms of outdoor recreation. This happens to be just our style. The surrounding area also provides plenty of excitement: Civil War History around Gettysburg, the Fruit Belt, Iron Ore Furnaces, the Appalachian Trail, the AT Museum at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, a secret World War II Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp and much more.
After choosing the map scale and layout parameters, we begin to research every resource possible, including State and Federal Agencies such as DCNR, USGS, County and Township mapping departments (if they exist), local land managers and conservation organizations. This gives us a giant helping of information that includes some of what you see at glance in our legend: paved and dirt roads, some trails, some forest roads, hydrography (all water bodies), springs, cemeteries, and points of interest. Sorting through this information takes over a year, sometimes a few years! Oftentimes the data isn't particularly accurate - even if it from an official source, it can't necessarily be trusted. The real world is constantly changing, so we find the dirt roads aren't really dirt (or the paved roads aren't really paved), the forest boundaries are different, we find cemeteries on our research trips that aren't in the State database, and all those gates - well, gates aren't in any database so every time you see a gate on our map, we had to get there to determine if the road is open or closed! And all those trails...well, they are the crux of the effort, and we'll come to back to them later.
Eventually we print an early draft version of the map and take it to the people who know the area well. We meet with local outdoor recreation shops, like Appalachian Running Company in Chambersburg, Blue Mountain Outfitters in Marysville, and Climbnasium in Mechanicsburg.
We meet with local bike shops that lead rides and host events in the forest like Quick Release Bicycle Shop in Chambersburg, Gettysburg Bikes in downtown Gettysburg, Gung Ho Bikes in York, Merv's Bike Shop in Shippensburg and Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College. Even though they are State College, J-Wag, one of the founders of Freeze Thaw, grew up riding the trails in Michaux. Any business with local knowledge is one we want to meet with, including non-profits such as Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau.
Quick Release Bicycle Shop stocks flat Michaux Lizard Maps for those who'd like to hang maps in their homes and cabins.
We also find local experts in unexpected places, such as the crew at Gearhouse Brewing who ride local trails, grow their own hops just outside of the brewery in Chambersburg, and of course brew great beer!
After receiving feedback from local businesses and organizations, we take our map to local trail users. Luckily we have some friends who know trails in the forest better than anyone else, including some folks from Bicycle Times Mag, DirtRag, and PA Interscholastic Cycling League. It is here that we learn of trails from the past, race routes, local trail folklore, and of course local trail names. We are also given feedback of certain locations that locals may want to keep to themselves, rather than see on our map.
Before diving into the woods, we check surrounding recreational areas that will be on the Michaux Map. The condition of the rail trail surface, parking, bathrooms, etc...
Once we enter the woods, the real adventure begins! We keep our senses tuned in and note everything possible. Most importantly, does our map accurately reflect the land? We note when the roads change from pavement, to gravel, to dirt. We note gates with roads or trails behind them. We note the condition of these gated roads and trails.
We keep a lookout for interesting historical remains that may be hidden in the thick forest.
We note trail signs, blazes, and conditions.
We also note if the signed trails actually exist, and if visitors would be able to find them.
We look for areas that we've read or heard of, but aren't on any existing maps. For instance, we found the Michaux Target Shooting Range.
We check out all of the roadside kiosks, to ensure that our information is congruent with state publications.
We also hike, bike, or climb to all the vistas that we can to be sure they exist and are in good condition for visitors to enjoy.
We find wildlife, like this Eastern Fence Lizard. And we find Purple Lizard Spots for our map!
We search for trails that may have been lost or rerouted due to natural resource extraction.
We find all of the numbered DCNR permit campsites along the forest roads.
We also do some light backpacking and primitive camping, which gives us a good feel for the forest.
We scramble around on boulders that we think climbers will enjoy, and look for chalked up climbing routes.
Michaux State Forest is notorious for having a difficult to follow trail system. We found many paths leading into the forest without blazes or signs, and we followed a lot of them to see where they lead.
Finally, the real magic takes place. All of our notes are compiled, sorted, and placed on our maps by our lead cartographer, Michael Hermann. Michael not only puts every physical feature on our maps; he also adds some of the most visually pleasing artistic adjustments that you'll ever see on a map.
Now that our Michaux Map is nearing completion, we visit and meet with the land managers. Of course this includes DCNR Bureau of Forestry, and DCNR State Parks, but it also includes other organizations such as Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve in Fairfield. We receive feedback on what these land managers would like to see (or not see) on our map. This was an extremely important factor for the Michaux Map, since this forest is notorious for 'visitor created' trails. Land managers may also sometimes give us future plans for the land that we may add to the map so that it is accurate for years to come.
We also get to take a break and find some great local spots that are well off the main route, like Boyer Cellars, which has acres of amazing orchards in the middle of the historic Fruit Belt just east of Michaux. Then we take our map and notes back to the office, complete final draft edits, and spend hours with a few close professionals looking over the map for any discrepancies. Once we're satisfied, the map is sent to our printer in Colorado (yep, we're made in the U.S.A.). Pre-sold maps get shipped first, then we hit the road and distribute our maps to local sponsors and dealers.
Purple Lizard is dedicated to supporting local businesses and communities through outdoor recreation. Because of this, we spend a lot of effort to offer local independent businesses the opportunity to sell our maps. Our maps are a product made by and for local community members.
Now we do what you do- we take our printed Michaux Map, and our friends, to the forest to play in the woods! We generally target areas that are less-well known, and then create blog posts as a way to encourage a healthy distribution of activity throughout the forest. Are our maps perfect? Well that would be nice, but no, they are not. Mistakes are found from time to time. We encourage you to get out there and appreciate your public lands. Oh, and if you do find a mistake, please let us know about it!
Follow some of our adventures in Michaux here:
Our Trail Guru discusses his completion of the first annual unPAved Pennsylvania gravel riding event, and how it has inspired him to ride more. "The rewarding feelings from this event are immeasurable and inspiring in so many ways: My friends and I sat around the evening after the event discussing winter bike gear needed to be able to prep for more events in 2019...especially the full 120-mile unPAved route."
Otter Creek Wilderness Area hosts over 40 miles of hiking trails for those willing to tackle the challenge. Managed as a Wilderness Area, this is truly a wild place. No roads or other infrastructure may exist. Bikes, wheels, motors, and other machines are also prohibited. Trails are well established, but signs, blazes, and other interpretive media are almost completely absent. Enter if you dare!