What makes them so special?
Orienteering maps are expensive and time-consuming to create, and map developers require expert skills. Orienteering clubs invest considerable resources to create and update maps for their members to use, typically in their local area. Orienteering maps do not exist for most areas in the Province of Ontario. Clubs may be open to allowing others to use maps they own for a fee; you must contact individual clubs to make a request. Orienteering Ontario can let you know whether there are orienteering maps in your area and, if so, which club you would contact.
NO CLUB OR O-MAP NEAR YOU?
Many would-be orienteers find themselves far away from orienteering clubs and available maps.
So what can you do?
If any of the nearby forests or conservation areas publish a reasonably accurate trail map, you can set up an orienteering course where participants are required to stay on trails to reach the flags. Finding the fastest route between flags can present a good challenge if the trail network has complexity and a number of junctions. If the trail map includes contours, that provides more information to participants. Even a campground may be interesting enough and available for use in the off season. Trail-only events can take place on foot, bike, ski or snowshoe. Trail-based orienteering is a great way to introduce adults and youth to the sport.
Similarly, a university or college campus map may be detailed and accurate enough to be used for basic orienteering. Some campuses in Ontario have been mapped for orienteering.
In areas where there are a number of large features (high hilltops, deep valleys, large ponds/lakes, forest roads), a standard 1:50,000 government topographic map can be blown up to a larger scale.
Satellite photos (e.g. Google, Bing) can sometimes be used for navigation in particular areas, e.g. urban neighbourhoods, school yards, campuses, or parks or fields with a mix of open space and vegetation that can be seen from the air.
Indoor orienteering is also possible, e.g. within a school or other indoor facility that is mapped.
Orienteering originated in Sweden in the late 19th century with the military. The term "orienteering" meant the crossing of unknown land with a map and compass. Although it is a mainstream sport in Europe and popular with families, youth and competitive athletes alike, it is still finding its footing as a mainstream sport in North America.
The benefits of spending time in nature, being active and social along with the intellectual challenge are lifelong and undeniable.
Before using a map, whether it is one you have created or one you have received permission to use, it is essential to obtain permissions from any landowners whose property would be used in any way - race course, registration, participant gathering or parking. This applies whether you wish to use the map for training or for a navigation event. Permission typically applies only for specific dates. Landowners may require proof of liability insurance. Misperception about potential impact on a property can be a barrier to obtaining permission, and it is advisable to begin to seek permissions far ahead of when the activity will take place. You may need to educate landowners and park authorities about the sport of orienteering.
The International Orienteering Federation has conducted thorough studies of the impact of orienteering on the environment. That information can be found here. "In the many thousands of orienteering events that are held worldwide each year ecological incidents resulting in unacceptable damage are extremely rare, close to zero," concludes the IOF's study A Nature Study with Low Ecological Impact. Clubs and those who create maps adhere to practices such as not putting checkpoints in or near wetlands or sensitive wildlife or nesting areas.