Click here for the early history of Gem Trek Maps (Part 1).
Gem Trek Publishing was founded by Donna and Roger Nelson in 1991. Here is the second part of the Gem Trek story.
By the mid-1990s, Gem Trek maps had a wide following in the Canadian Rockies, especially among hikers. Therefore, the Nelsons began experimenting with waterproof paper for the hiking maps. Finding paper was only part of the equation – the biggest difficulty was finding a printer up to the job, as no Alberta printers had experience printing on waterproof material. Specifically, special inks were required, which took longer to dry because they sat on top of the material (unlike paper, where it soaks in). Another hurdle was static electricity that made the sheets stick together as they went through the press, and the fact that the waterproof paper stretches going through the press—that’s if you could get them to go through the folding machine because of the static electricity. All of this had to be learned by the printer. Such a large number of sheets were wasted that the cost of printing went up every time there was a new print run.
But eventually, the problems were solved by a local printer and the first Gem Trek waterproof map was the 1998 edition of Lake Louise and Yoho National Park, which retailed for $9.95.
After the events of September 11, 2001, the number of tourists from the United States dropped significantly, and, in general, tourism was way down, including from Europe. Gas prices also rose during this period, also negatively impacting tourism, and therefore map sales. At the same time, waterproof paper was getting more expensive, leading Gem Trek to revert to printing all maps on regular paper.
To keep prices competitive with other map publishers, Gem Trek’s driving maps continue to be printed on regular paper, but in 2010, as hiking maps came up for updates and reprints, we reverted to waterproof paper. The completely waterproof and untearable material proofed immensely popular with backcountry enthusiasts, and has been used by Gem Trek ever since for all hiking maps.
(Thanks to Donna Nelson for her help in compiling this history)