The Palisades Interstate Park is a National Historic Landmark.
Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey

Putting the Park on Paper

Jpeg image of our current park map.

To download high-resolution copies of our current park map, please see our maps page. “Putting the Park on Paper” was first published in the May–June 2005 issue of “Cliff Notes.”

1950s brochure 1950s brochure

C. 1990 brochure C. 1990 brochure

The Palisades Interstate Park is on Facebook

As we gear up for another warm-weather season in the Park, we will also be saying goodbye to an old friend. The park brochure and map that has been in circulation, with minor edits and corrections, for as long as most of us can remember, is being sent into well-earned retirement. The brochure that replaces it is the culmination of almost two years’ work, much of it by Chris Szeglin, our Assistant Superintendent and a licensed civil engineer. Chris created a new map, from top to bottom, which is the heart of the new brochure. The staff of the Kearney House supervised the layout and content of the brochure.

Attentive visitors will notice similarities between the old map and the new, and for good reason. There were things about the old map that seemed worth saving. It was intuitive, for one thing, the cliffs given a graphic representation that read from south to north. It “looked” and “felt” like the park. Chris has brought that sensibility to the new map — it still looks and feels like the park. At the same time, however, the old map took many more liberties with scale than we liked. It was, even with a rule of miles running down its side, more drawing-like than map-like. It was also, relative to the twelve-mile length of the park, quite small, the whole of it fitting on a 17-inch-long sheet of paper with room to spare.

Early on, we made some decisions about how the new map — and the brochure of which it was to be a part — would be laid out. We liked the 11x17 inch sheet of the old brochure, which was folded in half lengthwise and then in thirds along its width to create, in essence, twelve panels, six on each side. We would keep that basic shape and size, but we'd make some changes in how we used those spaces. On the old brochure, the map occupied four of the twelve panels; the cover occupied one panel; and there was a blank panel with only our return address (in case the brochure was placed in the mail). Text occupied the remaining six panels — half of the brochure. We saw the map, on the other hand, as the most important part of the brochure — what people were really after when they pulled one from a display rack — and so we would double its size. The map would occupy eight panels, four on each side of the brochure. The map would be split in two, then, with the Huyler’s Landing area, the midway point of the park, shown on both sides, providing some overlap (to save hikers from having to flip the map over needlessly). The larger size would allow us to include such important details as the colors of the blazes for the different trails. It would also permit us to include place names and names of natural features that could not be fit on the older map, as well as to call out significant places and landmarks across the river from the park.

The cover would still get its own panel, but we'd discard the blank panel for mailing (we could use an envelope, after all). That still left a mere three panels for text — half the space the previous brochure had had. We would have to reduce the text to bare bones, then. (Of course, when the old brochure was first printed, there had been no such thing as the Internet; today's visitors can find most of what was in the old brochure — and then some — at our website.)

Our layout hashed out, Chris dove into the painstaking task of building the new map. From New Jersey’s website, Chris downloaded “orthophoto tiles” made from aerial flyovers conducted in 2002. Using AutoCAD software, he then traced the center lines of roads, the shoreline and cliff face, and other significant features. This resulted in a highly accurate map, which he could in turn scale within the 32-inch north–south space allotted for it using the same scale as USGS maps, where one inch equals 2,000 feet. The east–west scale, however, he decided from the start, would have to be exaggerated. It is a Palisades issue that has long confronted map makers: the park is twelve miles long, but only half a mile wide — at its widest. Details such as roads and trails tend to get crammed together, especially along the base of the cliffs, where the land is more often a few hundred feet wide (including the steep talus slope), and nowhere near 2,000 feet (in other words, there would be considerably less than an inch of map space, using the north–south scale). Chris therefore doubled the east–west scale, so one inch equaled 1,000 feet. (As with any mapmaking venture, where three dimensions are rendered in two, other distortions were necessary, as well: roads on the new map, for example, are much “wider” on paper than in real life.)

A graphic representation of the cliffs was favored over topographic contour lines, which besides being unfamiliar to many casual hikers and other park visitors, become hopelessly crammed together when trying to depict the abrupt drop of several hundred feet created by the cliffs. Here Chris tried to stay true not only to the “old” map and its pictorial representation of the cliff face, but to an even older one, a beautiful hand-drawn sketch map of the park made by Robert L. Dickinson for the American Geographical Society of New York in 1921.

While our brochure cannot compete with Dickinson’s artistry (even if, at the same time, our map is “cleaner” than his, drawn with advanced computer software rather than a fountain pen), we hope we have at least brought to it an echo of the sensibility he shared when presenting his work. “The charts of the amateur mapman,” he wrote more than eighty years ago, “try to hark back to the time when the high tide of art in cartography swept around the world, when maps were not abstractions but pictures — the same type that the eye of the airplane is bringing back to us again — picture maps which, when made for use in this locality, show our shore as though we imagined ourselves flying along the edge over the river. … to lure us aloft…”

The new brochure is not perfect. We’re certain we’ll have some changes to make the next time it goes to the printer. Still — may our visitors enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed creating it.