Mapping Out a Second Career as a Naturalist
For some people, retirement is a time for permanent #OOO and relaxing. For KEEN fan Ken Czarnomski, it was a golden opportunity to learn something new and give back.
After retiring from a successful architecture and teaching career in beautiful western North Carolina, he started a new career to help protect it. He went back to school for an education in the natural sciences—earning his certification as a Blue Ridge Naturalist—and now creates maps of natural areas to help get more people, especially the next generation, outdoors.
"My goal was to create something useful to the community that would further the connection that people could develop by exploring our wonderful mountains," Ken says. "My passion is to get people interested. To get them started on their own journey of exploration and love for the natural world around them."
While he says that many maps and books have been created and illustrated about the hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he noticed that many areas just outside of the park's North Carolina border were often overlooked by those visiting the region. Combining his passion for sketching, hiking, and cataloguing, the idea of illustrated maps as a simple, engaging educational tool was born. Ken found a project for himself where he could express his artistic passions in a way he had not done while being an architect.
Ken’s maps are a labor of love, an illustrated story of the natural environment. Each one taking many seasons to complete, combining proper map coordinates and conventional information, with beautiful illustrations of the flora and fauna hikers will encounter on and around a particular trail. They are designed as shorter day hikes for beginning hikers and families that may have smaller children, with features that may include breathtaking overlooks or little-known local waterfalls.
If visiting the Asheville, NC, area, be sure to grab Ken's illustrated guide and check out the Blackrock Mountain Hike.
Today, Ken has reached over 100,000 people through his illustrated maps, which the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority prints and gives away for free in local shops and restaurants. Not only are his maps useful tools to take along on quick hikes in the area, but have quickly become recognized as works of art that some visitors collect and frame.
We often say that we make shoes to make a difference, and Ken is a great example of why we do what we do. Stories of our fans creating milestone moments, cleaning up our national parks, or pushing themselves outside their comfort zones in KEEN shoes truly fuel our work.
Keep getting out there, and please keep sharing your adventures with us! Tag @KEEN or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured.
Ken wears our iconic Targhee hikers while enjoying the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding his home.