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Bob Marshall Wilderness

Cartographers chart new map

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Last summer and fall, Jamie Robertson and Amelia Hagen-Dillon, of the budding Missoula-based business Cairn Cartographics, and Robertson's brother Thomas, collectively hiked some 800 miles in the Bob Marshall Wilderness over the course of 53 days with GPS devices in hand to create a new—and more accurate—map of the sprawling mountainous backcountry.

Their first map, which charts the southern half of the 1.5 million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, is nearly done, and in order to raise enough money to print it, they used a novel approach: a web-based funding platform called Kickstarter. About three weeks ago Cairn Cartographics reached its $5,000 fundraising goal using Kickstarter, enough to print about 2,000 copies of its first map.

"We're hoping to turn this into a full-time business, and a lot of that will depend on how well this first map goes," says Robertson, a 26-year-old who holds a geography degree from the University of Montana and works in the school's IT department. "We anticipate it will go well."

According to Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation Executive Director Keagan Zoellner, the last map of the complex was drawn in 1990, and is in dire need of ground-truthing.

"Technology has improved since 1990, so it's great to have them out there and doing it," says Zoellner, who coordinated food drops last summer so the cartographers could hike longer distances and minimize backtracking.

Robertson and Hagen-Dillon took their 675 miles of GPS data and "processed it and massaged it and ran it through GIS [geographic information system]," Robertson says, and then used graphic design software to create the map. Drawn to a 1:80,000-scale, it includes marked trail and river mileages and shaded relief. They hope to print it on waterproof, tear-resistant paper in time for the summer recreation season, and make it available through Cairn Cartographics, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation and local outdoor stores.

By the time the new map appears, Robertson and Hagen-Dillon will be deep in the backcountry collecting data for their next one—detailing the northern half of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Robertson says they'll head out as soon as the snow melts.

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