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History of Wilderness Mapping

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) published the first standardized map of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) in 1987. This 1:7,500,000 scale map showed wilderness areas in the contiguous United States on the front, with Alaska and Hawaii on the back. The back of this map also included general information on each congressionally designated wilderness area. Like the current 2004 map, the color of the wilderness showed which of the four federal agencies administered the area. In 1989, The Wilderness Society published a map commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. This map showed wildernesses, color-coded by agency, with Alaska and Hawaii inset below the contiguous United States at different scales. The reverse side listed acreage, year of proclamation, and administrative unit for each wilderness. To commemorate the 35th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 1999, The Wilderness Society, Trails Illustrated of National Geographic maps, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center collaborated to update The Wilderness Society map. This new map retained the appearance and size of the previous map, with Alaska and Hawaii inset, but included general information on wilderness within the map border.

In 2004 for the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a map was published by the USGS National Atlas of the United States program through a collaborative and diverse partnership effort. Its large format (42" x 46") allowed the map to be published at 1:5,000,000 scale, giving a clearer picture of the spatial extent and boundaries of each wilderness. Additionally, for the first time, Alaska and Hawaii were shown at the same scale as the contiguous United States. Also for the first time, the map was able to deliver educational messages including an overview of the legacy and benefits of wilderness. One front inset displayed photographs of selected wilderness areas and another quoted citizens on what wilderness means to them. The back of the map included a table showing acreage, year of proclamation, and administrative unit for each wilderness. Adjacent to the table was a collage of images, text, and graphs that provide additional wilderness information.

The most recent printed map was published in 2014 by the USGS for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Like the 2004 map, this map is also a larger format publication with interpretive information on the back, including insets that use maps to illustrate select values of wilderness and a timeline of key historical events in the evolution of the wilderness idea. Although no paper copies are currently available, high quality digital copies of both the front and back of the map are available online.



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