Partners of the Cherokee National Forest Collaborate to Create a Regional Recreation Map

By Amanda Keith posted 12-20-2016 09:36 AM


This past fall, visitors to the Southern Appalachians in North Carolina and Tennessee gained access to a unique resource to explore recreation areas on nearly 3,000,000 acres of public lands. The Cherokee National Forest asked the nonprofit PARTNERS of the Cherokee National Forest to reinvent and reprint a once-popular 15-year old recreation map that had fallen into disuse.

The PARTNERS saw a larger opportunity. They organized a coalition of land management agencies, nonprofits and tourism departments, and they published a more user-friendly version of the map. The publication showcases recreational opportunities on federal and state lands and highlights scenic byways - all within the larger context of the Southern Appalachians.


According to PARTNERS of the Cherokee National Forest Executive Director John Innes, the new map goes beyond what a typical recreation map offers. “This map provides a ‘big picture’ overview of an important portion of the Appalachian range,” he said. He explained that in creating this map, the intent was to draw the reader’s attention to recreation opportunities across the region, rather than draw them to one specific public land, city or state.

In fact, unlike other maps, this one was designed so that public lands are prominently displayed in vivid colors, while other signifiers such as state boundaries and major interstates are muted to black, white and gray tones. This allows the reader to view public land resources without the “traffic jam” of major roads and cities, Innes explained, and it “promotes tourism in remote regions that usually don’t get a great deal of attention.”

He provided the Pigeon River Corridor as an example. Located in an area between Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN, this river is on the western border of the northern section of the Cherokee National Forest and offers whitewater rafting, hiking opportunities and a welcome center for visitors. Adjacent to the popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park, however, it tended to be overlooked by visitors heading toward more well-known hiking paths in the national park. The area is now properly identified as a recreation destination in its own right.

The new map places lesser-known sites on equal footing and allows the reader to determine whether it’s worth visiting based on the activity they want to do. Once the reader decides he or she is interested, the map then encourages them to visit a nearby welcome center to pick up more detailed maps for navigation use.

Collaboration was Key to Creating this Recreation Map

Innes noted that PARTNERS is the smallest of the organizations involved. However, the stakeholders agreed to allow this group to lead and coordinate the project. Innes explained that the work was divided up into six separate functional areas. Each area was assigned to two representatives drawn from each of the various organizations. Groups such as the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, tourism and hospitality departments, as well as federal and state land management agencies in TN and NC all collaborated to make this map a success.

Each representative group brought with them knowledge about their local areas and the unique recreation opportunities on their public lands. Land management agency staff led the way in developing content that would help inform the reader and provide guidance on how to act responsibly in the outdoors. Nonprofits and other organizations brought their expertise in designing, producing, and printing the map that would ultimately be distributed at the visitor centers they operate.

According to PR Director for the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development Cindy Dupree, this map project was a great team effort. Dupree noted that a “great deal of care and effort went into creating this map.”


The first printing of 50,000 maps occurred in September, and the majority of them were gone in two months. The Pisgah Ranger Station alone, in the Pisgah National Forest, distributed 1,000 maps in six weeks, according to the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association Executive Director, Carlton Murrey. “We will need additional maps for Spring distribution,” Murrey said. “Visitors love the map.”

The process of obtaining printing services was a good example of the collaborative effort among PARTNERS. Jason Urroz, who directs the Kids in Parks program for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation co-led the printing phase with Carlton Murrey. Urroz said that the effort was worthwhile and that he thought the map was a “fantastic tourism opportunity.”

When he was asked to help with the initial run of printing, he said that it wasn’t a time or financial burden since his program regularly identifies printing companies for their own materials. “Printing the map in large quantities also made it easier,” he said, and explained that with all of the groups pitching in, through time, dollars, and/or distribution leadership, he could help facilitate an economic printing process, and he noted that there was value in how the project did not fall on one sole agency or partner.

One aspect that Innes said he is excited about is the new working relationships and genuine friendships that have formed as a result of this eight-month project. “The coalition has proven to be very durable and effective,” he said. Not only are all 12 groups able to continue promoting and distributing the regional map, Innes said, “many are curious about what else might be accomplished by working together.”

While organizations and agencies may often focus solely on their own sites, projects like this one allow groups to work across borders and to recognize the immense value that public land regions provide for recreational visitors.

To download the map, visit

Staff from the following organizations cooperated in publishing and distributing the new map: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Cherokee National Forest, Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, Great Smoky Mountains Association, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC State Parks, PARTNERS of the Cherokee National Forest, TN Dept of Tourist Development, TN State Parks, and Visit North Carolina.