Magnetic Mendota: a map for the Wisconsin Hoofers

I recently finished a unique and challenging map design project for the Wisconsin Hoofers, the outdoor clubs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The result is a three-dimensional, magnetic map of Lake Mendota that functions as a teaching tool, enhances the aesthetic of the renovated Hoofer space, and adds some created-by-Hoofers-for-Hoofers character to a brand new room.

In this post, I’ll talk about the completed project and the design choices that shaped it.

Here’s a link to the blog post detailing the making of the map.

Here’s a link to a listing of articles featuring the map, from campus news to Make Magazine’s website.


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Why Magnetic?

The map has to accommodate a wide variety of activities within Hoofers, all of which need different map features emphasized. For instance, while a sailing instructor might want to show mooring fields and piers, a Scuba diver might want to show dive-sites, and a kayaker may want to show public boat landings. We initially considered creating a whiteboard or covering a print with a dry-erase cover such as plexiglass. Finally, I proposed using a magnetic surface to allow anyone to change the map display by adding magnets.



Anyone can now add their own significant landmarks, treat the map as an impromptu Madison geography quiz, playfully mislabel it, or completely strip away the labels for a minimalist presentation.

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observatory wintercarnival sunset2

Lake Mendota is iconic in Madison, bringing to mind sailboats, sunsets, and warm summer evenings on the Memorial Union Terrace or at one of the many parks along its shores. The map shows this familiar place in a way that many people often don’t see, emphasizing the underlying form.

I wanted to avoid presenting the lake as a bounded, isolated entity. The streams flowing into and out of the lake cut through the map’s wooden frame to indicate their continuation. These hint at the lake’s connectedness to its surrounding watershed and on to the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico, and the world’s oceans.

Pheasant Branch Creek

Pheasant Branch Creek flows into the west end of Lake Mendota

Tenney Park

The Yahara River at Tenney Park is the outlet of Lake Mendota.

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By Hoofers for Hooferscabinet

The project is dedicated to the university students and community members who volunteer their time in
Hoofers. Even paid staff often go far beyond their duties. Instructors, trip organizers, event coordinators, and club leaders put in time and effort every day to make Hoofers a hub of outdoor recreation.

It was important to me that the map be designed and built by Hoofers. For me, being a member of Hoofers has reinforced certain values, including activeness, self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and hard work. Building things for ourselves is something that Hoofers do and admire, from handmade boats to custom gear storage systems. That’s why I was excited to find a magnetic material that we could cut with the available woodworking tools.

Read more about the making of the map here.

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My personal connections

I have learned so much in my 5 years in Hoofers, from whitewater kayaking and canoeing to lead climbing to trip planning, all thanks to volunteer instructors. The Hoofers organization has been a formative element in my life, and I was thrilled to take on this mapping project to give back in a unique way.

I approached the project with prior experience from another sculptural map of lake bathymetry: my Bathymetric Book, which depicts Crater Lake in a similar layered structure. Read about that project at

table laserbook


37 thoughts on “Magnetic Mendota: a map for the Wisconsin Hoofers

    1. Upon watching the video I noticed how fine cut the magnetic edges where. This really must have taken some effort! How they keep this big thing from falling off the wall?

  1. A very good project for education, but if I may make a suggestion in the maps should give a brighter color again to entice people to learn and imitate … hopefully can inspire teachers in the world

  2. Great topic Caroline on your thesis. I would study the various biorhythms and frequencies that attract or distract those lost in the woods. I tried that thought for 911 lost persons and check off list on person’s likes or interests using 1 mile grids and expanding as the search time frame grew.
    Be interested in how you got the bathowood carving book as might have a reversible version for my county wide lidar model 😉

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