xiii. US National Park Service – Places Project

Interaction type

 Public → Government → Public

Trigger Event

Licensing and data validation concerns


Tourism, natural features


National Park Service


National Park Service

Data sets in use



The edits are currently only done by Park Service employees, so there is no validation in effect. This may change in the future.


Internal Park datasets that have been digitized from park maps


To create an up-to-date map of all the parks for viewing and use by the public on the parks’ websites.

Side effects

None yet, but data quality issues are anticipated.

Contact Point

Jim McAndrew

The National Park Service (NPS) does not have a comprehensive dataset of geographic information describing tourist infrastructure and natural features for all of the 400 or so individual territories managed by NPS. Some parks have their own GIS departments and produce excellent data, while other parks are small and do not have these resources. The aim of the NPS Places project is to allow non-technical users to add and modify important landmarks in the parks in a single map. This map can then be used as a base map for all National Park Service web maps. When users see the crowdsourced map in parks, they will notice errors and be able to make changes to the maps immediately.

The NPS Places project (http://www.nps.gov/poi/) uses the OpenStreetMap platform because of the robust open source tools that are available. This includes the backend API and rendering formats as well as the easy-to-use iD editor. It does not use the OSM database due to licensing restrictions on OSM data. The NPS maintains its data separately.

The project is designed to collect point data from NPS employees that will be displayed on most of the web maps on the NPS website. There are future plans to expand this project further to allow edits from the public and to use park employees to verify the information before it becomes published on the map.

There is currently no easy way to extract information from the NPS Places project although its API is open and fully documented. It is possible for motivated users to use this API to extract the information they want.

The biggest success of this project is that we are able to collect contributions from the non-technical Park staff. This includes people with extensive knowledge about the parks, such as rangers and maintenance managers. These people know the parks better than anyone, but they have not been able to get their data into traditional GIS at parks without a dedicated GIS staff.

We haven’t seen many non-technical users using the system yet, but the project is planning to visit the parks and train users on it so they know what they can add. Some parks with GIS departments have already started synchronizing their own information with the system and have been making a big push to use the system for all of their web pages.

The biggest challenge is that OpenStreetMap does not deal with traditional GIS very well. We are building tools to synchronize ESRI databases with out database using the ESRI REST API. We would like to make contributing to the system as easy as possible for the existing GIS departments that do the bulk of the GIS work in the parks. While the goal is to get non-technical people involved, the core of the project will still be the GIS departments that exist in the parks and the regional offices.

Main lessons:

  • It is possible and sometimes desirable to use the OSM toolset to facilitate voluntary mapping activities without using the dataset itself.
  • The OpenStreetMap platform can be used as a great platform for empowering non-technical users to start modifying maps. The iD editor is extremely easy to use, and has been built in a way that makes it very extensible. The rendering tools, such as TileMill and Mapnik allow the data to be updated in real time, and the new Mapnik vector tiles makes this process even easier.
  • The success of the system relied on working with the GIS Managers at the parks, such as Tom Colson in Great Smoky Mountains. It also requires working with regional GIS staff, such as Darcee Killpack. The individual park rangers are also an important part to this project, but they will require more training to get their contributions into the system.
  • Live feedback is an important feature, because we believe that people will be more likely to update the map when they can see their edits in reasonable amount of time.

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