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Service Area Maps

Best practices for making maps that show the area of function for a land trust and key information about this region.

The most essential map for any land trust is the service area or “turf” map, showing the full geography of a trust – a county, a watershed, a region, or an entire state. In addition, a series of maps that show information about the land trust's region can be very useful for planning and communication.

Basic regional or "turf" maps are able to quickly and dramatically create a geographic identity for the land trust, and visually frame information and choices about land acquisition priorities.

Service Area Map

The main focus of a service area map is usually to show all of the protected lands, highlighting the lands that have been protected by the land trust. This immediately indicates both the success of the land trust and the area where work remains to be done. 

Key audiences for these maps include the land trust’s board, volunteers, staff, donors, public agencies, the press, and members of the public generally. 

Here are best practices to follow:

  1. Design:  Invest in an attractive design for the frame of the map - the overall look and feel, the way the title works, effective color combinations, etc.  The map (or maps) should be your calling card, as much as your annual report or brochure. 
  2. Core Data:  Use only data layers that are essential - most common are governmental boundaries (city, county, township, etc.), protected parks and other open space, highways and major (or all) roads, rivers and streams, relief or other topographic data and key places.  Many maps end up with more data than viewers can absorb, so pare down as much as possible, leaving the viewer to see mainly the key subject of the map.
  3. Key Data: When showing your holdings be sure they stand out against the rest of the map - you can do this by the colors and lines that show these holdings and/or by having other information be much less visually prominent.
  4. Message:  Consider using an evocative title ("Saving Our County's Watersheds") instead of just a functional title ("Watersheds of Pine County") - your message is as important as the land data in the map.

Regional Context Maps

A series of half a dozen service area maps that show key factors can aid basic acquisition planning as well as communication with stakeholders.  These should be done with your land trust's graphics scheme and often include the following maps:

  • Tax parcel or ownership boundaries, possibly overlaying the "turf" map above (or done by themselves with the parcels colored by size).
  • A watershed map indicating the one or more watersheds of interest.
  • Vegetation classes, showing the extent of forests, grasslands, agriculture, deserts, etc.
  • Urbanization maps showing developed areas and/or planning designations in relation to protected lands (or other natural factors)
  • Critical habitat corridors or landscapes, if that information exists for your area
  • Other map topics could include soils, master plans, detailed streams and rivers, etc.

LEARN MORE about getting data for these maps... 

Sphere of Influence Map

Finally, a very useful product for regional collaboration is a "sphere of influence" map, showing the area of operations of other land trusts in your broader region.

© Land Trust GIS 2006