Q&A: John Innes, Designer of the Cherokee Forest "Adventure Map"

Owner of GoodPoint Inc., known locally for its User Friendly Maps division, John Innes recently released the Cherokee Forest "Adventure Map," which shows the entire forest and 50 of its top destinations. (He is also the man behind the awesome "Hey, It's a Map!" feature for ye olde Metro Pulse.)

Can people get into the Cherokee Forest even with the recent federal closings?

Yes! The current federal government shutdown that closed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park did not close national forests. Anyone wanting to enjoy East Tennessee's famous fall colors can drive throughout the entire thing. But it's important to have a guide like this when you go, since smartphones and even the GPS often do not work in mountainous areas.

How did an ordinary map guy like yourself get involved with the Cherokee Forest folks?

Michael Curry, the marketing guru of the Partners of the Cherokee National Forest, invited me. The Cherokee Forest is a giant—even larger than the GSMNP—and while it's entirely in Tennessee it's so large that it touches both Virginia and Georgia. Unlike a park, it is a national forest, which officially means it is part of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and they grow trees there. But it also happens to be a fabulous place to hike, camp, swim, and picnic. All of that is allowed in a national forest—and even, with the proper licenses, hunting and fishing. And you can take your pets anywhere in a national forest. Yet this gorgeous wilderness is often overlooked by locals and visitors. The problem? Previous maps tended to be too technical. So, I leapt into action. The result is the current "Adventure Map."

Is it aimed at hikers?

If you want to hike 10 miles, or 100—this is not the map for you. Though it is drawn perfectly to scale, it is not intended as a detailed hiking map. Rather, it is for those who want to drive, stop, walk a mile or so and reach a waterfall and have a picnic—a perfect family day-trip guide.

Do you have to get out of your car to enjoy it?

No, you don't. One of the biggest draws is the Cherohala Skyway. While that's an odd name for a road, it's a world-famous scenic drive with most beautiful scenery and it's on this map. There are many opportunities to just drive and enjoy waterfalls, splendid overlooks, and spectacular fall colors.

Do Cherokee still live in the forest?

It is not like it's an official set-side; it's federal land and does not have anything to do with the Cherokee Nation. Historically, however, countless generations have walked these 640,000-plus acres of wilderness, including indigenous Cherokee tribes. It is a unique asset that all East Tennesseans should be proud of. Today, visitors come to tread the Unicoi Turnpike Trail, which was once part of the Trail of Tears. Outdoor lovers are drawn to the Appalachian Trail and the Benton McKaye Trail. We show all three in detail.

Did you include any subliminal messages in the map?

Well, there are dozens of trails with waterfalls in the forest and only one-tenth of the number of visitors found in the Smokies. So, if you stare deeply into the "Adventure Map" and imagine your family enjoying some alone time beside a pristine, 90-foot waterfall, I predict that a subliminal force will soon compel your family to pile into the car and enjoy a day in the Cherokee Forest.

The Cherokee Forest "Adventure Map" can be purchased at PartnersOfTheCherokee.org