An environmental affairs department boosts recreational tourism with a durable, portable map that easily fits in a camper’s or kayaker’s pack.
By Martha Spizziri
From the 1960s well into the ’80s, the water in and around Michigan’s Saginaw Bay was suspect. Sewage overflows into the Saginaw River had compromised the quality of the bay. Advisories against eating fish from the bay were almost a regular occurrence. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a popular recreation spot.
Water quality began to drastically improve in the late 1980s, thanks to the efforts of government agencies and local volunteer groups. Water-treatment upgrades, tighter regulations, wetlands preservation, and other measures have transformed the Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River. The Saginaw Bay is now a body of water wildly popular with outdoors enthusiasts, clean enough for boating and fishing.
Michigan’s Bay County Environmental Affairs & Community Development Department, one of the groups involved in the water-quality turnaround and conservation efforts, helped map out and improve boat launch points, shoreline camping spots, and other points of historical or recreational interest to form a “blueways trail” that can be enjoyed by boaters and campers.
Seven or eight years ago, the environmental affairs department was routinely fielding calls from unhappy Michiganders who were complaining about beach closings. Now those calls have stopped, says Laura Ogar, the department’s director. Instead, the phone calls are from people wanting to know where they can launch a kayak or canoe. The department’s challenge now was to let people know about the resources and amenities available to them on and around the bay.
The department’s solution was to print a map of the Saginaw Bay Blueways Trail. But not just any map. This map had to be practical for boaters and campers. That meant it had to be able to get wet—without the ink running or the map itself falling to pieces.
“We wanted this to withstand the purpose it was intended [for], and that is to get people out on the water,” notes Ogar.
The map also had to contain detailed information about campgrounds, boating facilities, and orienting landmarks all around the bay. Yet it had to be small enough to fit easily in a pocket or backpack. And Ogar wanted the paper to feel like paper, not plastic.
The department worked with The F.P. Horak Company, a Bay City, Michigan-based full-service print and marketing communications services provider, to find the right materials for the job. The company identified a water-resistant paper, Paper Tyger, that not only feels like “regular” paper, but was less costly than other water-resistant options. In addition, it didn’t require special inks for printing, as some other paper choices would have. And the standard soy-based inks used for printing contain UV-inhibitors that don’t fade quickly in sunlight—an important consideration for a piece that would be used by outdoors enthusiasts.
Speaking of the map’s durability factor, Ogar says, “This (map) was meant to last. Hopefully, it’ll be passed on and on.”
The F.P. Horak Company worked closely with the department in developing the map. Archived maps from the agency’s geographical information systems were turned into PDFs for printing and used as a base to which key icons, insets, and logos were added.
The department had collaborated with the Bay County Historical Society to get details on historical sites along the trail. But Ogar and The F.P. Horak Company soon realized that there was so much information that could be added, it was impossible to fit it all on the map. A clever solution was to include a QR code that directed visitors to bonus material, such as a tour of historical points of interest, or information about where to get a burger and a beer after a tough day of paddling the bay.
The resulting map is 11 inches by 17 inches at full size, and folds down to 3 inches by 5 inches.
“On the cover, it says ‘Go ahead, get wet: printed on water resistant paper,’” says Ogar. “And we did need to put that on there, we found, because when you feel this stuff (the paper stock), it feels like normal paper.”
The department printed 28,000 copies of its Saginaw Bay Blueways Trail map late last summer. Ogar says that, so far, they’ve distributed only limited quantities to communities surrounding the bay. The plan is to do a more coordinated push in coming months, supplying maps to sporting-goods stores, tourism bureaus, chambers of commerce, campgrounds, and the like.
“It’s also a promotional piece for general recreation,” Ogar points out. “Our economic development people love it.” She says the convention and visitors bureau wants copies of the map made available at the regional airport. “It’s really serving as much more than just a water-trail map,” Ogar says. “This is our ground-zero, baseline piece to show our area off as a waterfront recreational place—a destination.”