Paper Trails

Will the Gazetteer survive its techie new owners?

[B]eloved Maine mapmaker DeLorme, recently gobbled up by Swiss GPS giant Garmin, staked its in-state reputation on Eartha, the world’s largest spinning globe (at its Yarmouth headquarters), and its comprehensive Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, a longstanding must-have for drivers, campers, canoeists, and hikers in the backcountry (DeLorme made Gazetteers for other states too, but who cares?).

Garmin, a pioneer of hi-tech navigational gadgetry, bought DeLorme specifically to acquire DeLorme’s inReach technology, a satellite-communications and GPS product marketed to intrepid outdoorsy types. But when news of the purchase broke, those intrepid outdoorsy types had a collective freak-out for fear that the Gazetteer might cease publication.

Consider George Ritz, recently retired after 25 years as a state forester, managing a territory that spanned from Old Town to Houlton, 100 miles to the north. In that neck of the woods, the Gazetteer ranks up there with shelter, water, fire, and food.

“There’s no real substitute,” Ritz says. “GPS works fine in cities, but not in the backcountry.” He still remembers buying the first edition of the Gazetteer in 1976, and he hasn’t left home without an updated edition ever since. Today, though, many recreationists aren’t so loyal.

“As time went on, people — especially from away — became more dependent on the damn GPS,” he says, even though the Gazetteer gives — and GPS doesn’t give — reliable indications of road quality. A Google Maps route, for instance, might lead down an abandoned logging road overgrown with half-foot trees.

“People would start down a road, realize they couldn’t make it, try to turn around, and then be stuck,” Ritz says. “Then you find some guy who’s been walking down the road for five hours, he’s beat, he’s been bitten by 10,000 blackflies and mosquitos, and he left his wife and kids in the car.”

As of press time, Garmin hasn’t committed either to keeping or killing the Gazetteer, but the PR mumbo jumbo doesn’t sound good: “We’re currently evaluating the DeLorme product roadmap, but it’s too early to make any official announcements on our plan going forward,” one press rep told us. “We are still continuing to sell [Gazetteers] and we don’t expect that to change, um, right away,” said another.

“When all else fails,” Ritz says, “you pull out a paper map.” Unless, of course, you can’t buy one anymore.

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