Every decade, Kyle Hamilton of Blue Lake Maps designs and creates a new snapshot of the Iowa Great Lakes region, showcasing new additions alongside the area’s long history. For the past 60 years, these maps have become family keepsakes at area homes and businesses.
Blue Lake Maps were first released in 1960 by Robin Hamilton, Kyle’s mother. She was home for the summer from college and spending extra time at their family’s cottage on Emerson Bay.
“Her dad, Robert Rieckhoff, suggested, ‘Why don’t you make a map of the lake since you’re always on it,’” Kyle said. “She started the first map with a friend and pieced it together on their living room floor.”
In 1960, the first map was released of West Lake Okoboji with 883 entries. In 2020, the West Lake Okoboji map has 1,126 entries, and when all three lakes are included, there are a total of 5,000 entries.
“It’s one reason why these maps have become so popular,” Kyle shared. “Their grandparents had a map, now other generations want their name on a map. Some families will place their new map on top of the old ones inside the same frame. I really enjoy seeing how many years a family has collected their maps.”
In 1980, Kyle joined his mother’s efforts and it was the first time Blue Lake Maps released all three lakes in the area—West Lake Okoboji, East Lake Okoboji, and Big Spirit. Every decade, the Hamilton’s have added new features as new technology has come into existence. In 2010, Kyle began customizing the maps, and with this year’s new release, all 2020 maps can be customized, placed on canvas, or vintage reproductions can be ordered for purchase.
Kyle keeps up with the maps every year, but only releases the 130-page directory every ten years. The directories include mailing address, 911 numbers and are designed to cross reference to the map. The Directories are made possible with the support of local businesses advertising.
“People find this very handy; when they are sending out Christmas cards or trying to remember who lives 5 or 20 doors down from them on the beach,” he explained. “They are even helpful to service people trying to locate a home.”
The 2020 60th Anniversary Maps can be purchased locally at the Farmer’s Market in the Park every Saturday morning during the summer, Carol’s Cottage at Heartland Paints, Glass, and Locksmithing or online at bluelakemaps.com. They can be printed on traditional paper or on framed canvases. Through the years, Carol Larson has been framing and handling these maps for the Hamiltons. “Carol does an amazing job with framing,” he said. “The past few years, at least 75% of people want to customize their map, whether it’s the logo, photos, color of the lake to match the interior of their home, their name, or drone photos are also a new option. Because I print one at time, we are able to customize each of these maps specifically to the customer.”
Besides creating new maps every decade, Kyle is passionate about ‘Keep Okoboji Blue’ (KOB) and that is why their logo is being showcased on the 2020 map. KOB was started by Scott and Deidre Rosenboom 15 years ago, modeled after the successful organization from Lake Tahoe, CA. The local organization has always focused on helping the environment, improving area lakes and overall water quality.
“Deidre showcased a few maps at her Wine Bar in 2010 with the KOB logo, and it was well received,” Kyle said. “Every decade we change the artwork and this year when I was designing the new map, I couldn’t get the KOB logo out of my head. Blue Lake Maps and KOB just go together.”
Every map that Kyle sells, five percent will go towards the KOB endowment fund, which is housed under the Okoboji Foundation. The monies raised will go towards clean water projects around the Iowa Great Lakes area. Kyle also has a different website, keepokobojiblue.com. The website is a place to find KOB merchandise, where you can make donations, and see upcoming local events. You can also support them on Facebook and Instagram.
Growing up on West Lake Okoboji, Kyle has a huge appreciation for the Iowa Great Lakes area. Blue Lake Maps and “Keep Okoboji Blue” are two ways he gives back to the community, while continuing to capture history for years to come.