Xplorer Maps Partners with Isle Royale and Keweenaw Parks Association to Create Isle Royale National Park Map

There are no wheels allowed on Isle Royale. If you want to get to the island, you have to hop on a seaplane or a boat.

Known as a backpackers’ island, Isle Royale National Park is Xplorer Maps’ latest custom, collaborative map project conducted in partnership with the Isle Royale and Keweenaw Parks Association (IRKPA), a nonprofit that supports and protects the Michigan national park.

Conversations about the partnership began in 2016 when Alison Pontynen, sales manager at IRKPA, and Greg Robitaille, president of Xplorer Maps, connected through the Public Land Alliance, an organization where they are fellow members.

Rugged and remote, with rocky shorelines and far from civilization, the island is located above Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is surrounded by Lake Superior. It is the largest wilderness area in Michigan, with an abundance of moose, wolves, foxes, beavers, snowshoe hares, loons, bats and other animals. While Isle Royale is one of the least-visited national parks, it has the highest re-visitation rate of any national park in the nation. People also stay an average of four days, compared to four hours for most national parks.

Featured in Backpacker Magazine, Isle Royale is a destination experience for backpackers. The 42-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail that follows the spine of Isle Royale over layers of volcanic rock is legendary among backpackers.

“You start at one end of the island and go to the other,” Pontynen said. “The rocky shores and vistas are stunning.”

The geology and history of the island are important, she said, adding that Isle Royale is the largest island in Lake Superior and is part of an archipelago of 400 smaller islands. The island’s ridge has one of the oldest, longest-lasting lava flow events on earth, and the island has some of the purest forms of copper known to exist. Visitors can tour historic copper mines, some of which were operational until the early 1900s.

Isle Royale, home to populations of gray wolves and moose, is well known for its research of this specific predator-prey relationship. It is the longest-running study of its kind and is world renowned, Pontynen said.

Pontynen first got the idea of having Xplorer Maps create the Isle Royale map when she saw the company’s Santa Catalina Island (CA) map at a national tradeshow. “It’s an island, and we’re an island,” she said.

For Robitaille, creating a hand-drawn map of Isle Royale is a special opportunity. “We are fortunate to have previously featured and told the story of other interesting island destinations – Santa Catalina Island, Sanibel-Captiva Island, San Juan Islands, and Zanzibar,” he said. “Given the incredible landscapes and unique character of the above destinations, a more extensive island series might be a focus for Xplorer Maps in the near future.”

The timing was also good for taking on the Isle Royale project, he said. “I felt it would be a perfect companion piece for our recently released state map of Michigan.”

Once completed, IRKPA will sell the map in the Isle Royale’s four visitor centers and online. All the money from the sale of this hand-drawn map will go toward funding educational and service programs for the park. One of the educational programs the association funds is the artist-in-residence program, which includes four artists, and more recently, two teenaged artists each year.

“It’s harder and harder to get good frameable maps anymore,” Pontynen said. “The Xplorer Maps hand-drawn map will be gorgeous. Everyone will want to put it on their walls.”