Engineering — and hiking — a springboard to map making for Coquitlam man

Steve Chapman is a professional map maker and Coquitlam Search and Rescue member in training. - SARAH PAYNE/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Steve Chapman is a professional map maker and Coquitlam Search and Rescue member in training.

A passion for the outdoors and a love of hiking and exploration, as well as a handy first career in electronics engineering, are coming together for Coquitlam resident — and professional freelance map maker — Steve Chapman.

Now the self-taught cartographer is using his skills to benefit two local organizations.

Last year, Chapman volunteered to create the route map for the annual Diez Vista 50 race and he's also working on updating maps for Coquitlam Search and Rescue, where he's currently a member-in-training.

"I've always been hiking and reading maps, every since I was in my mid-teens," said Chapman, who grew up in Birmingham, England. "So I'm pretty familiar with how they work and what should be in a map."

His engineering background, with its mix of analyzing data, creative, out-of-the-box thinking and adapting to new technology, have served him well in his map-making venture.

Chapman started in the map business about five years ago with a company that created digital outdoor guidebooks. The first product, Indian Arm Explorer, covered Eagle Mountain, Buntzen Lake and Seymour, with a map and software that plotted a route based on a user's planned starting and end points.

Map backgrounds are pulled from government sources and satellite imagery but plotting trail data requires on-the-ground research, and plenty of it.

"I did all these [trails] myself pretty much," Chapman said, noting it likely involved more than 200 km of hiking. "Some of it was pretty gnarly stuff."

Now, Chapman hopes to make a similar map that will cover the entire Tri-Cities, including Eagle Ridge, Buntzen Lake and Burke Mountain, that could be sold as a fundraiser for Coquitlam Search and Rescue (SAR). He has also created a new, more compact map for SAR members in training.

SAR spokesperson Michael Coyle said team members have been making their own maps for years but Chapman's skills add a professional element.

"Because he deals with customers who have a wide variety of needs, he brings a very broad perspective to how to address the particular requirements of a search and rescue team like ours. He has suggested some much-needed improvements that I think will make a big difference for us," Coyle said.

And it's not just Chapman's map-making skills that are making a change for SAR.

Chapman's hiking hobby has recently turned into trail and ultra-marathon running, and he'd hoped to register for the Diez Vista 50 race but, when it filled up within an hour, he decided to volunteer instead.

"I saw they didn't have a decent map, so I contacted the race director... and she was interested in getting a map done," Chapman said. He also approached his fellow SAR members and suggested they volunteer on the race route to provide first aid.

The partnership worked so well that the Diez Vista 50 will now be an annual fundraiser for Coquitlam SAR.

Chapman isn't only crafting local maps, however. Some of his recent projects include a tall, narrow map showcasing Okanagan wineries, a project for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and a Squamish-area hiking map.

Chapman said he likes the fact that every map is different and that he never knows just where it's going to lead.

"I just like to get out on the trail and explore places I haven't been before."

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