National Park Service Mapping

Posted by mikelmaron on 4 February 2013 in English (English)

At the mapping party in Hyattsville a few months ago, I stumbled apon and mapped part of the Star Spangled Banner Trail, a National Park Service Historic Trail covering sites throughout the region. Gave me the idea to organize a mapping party around the trail, and maybe coordinate with the NPS. I'm a history geek, and love getting outside, so OSM is basically an excuse to explore.

So I cast out onto the mappingdc list and twitter to get in touch with some folks at the NPS who might be into the idea. Most everyone lead me to Nate Irwin and Mamata Akella. I had met Mamata super briefly at SOTM-US, simply hailing the greatness of the NPS being there; I didn't get a chance to learn about their work then. We had a chat the a couple weeks ago, and I'm really impressed.

The NPMap team are working to create a tile set specifically designed for use by the National Park Service. Out of the box tile sets have their place, but there's a need for maps that highlight detailed park information, in the beautiful cartographic style we know and love in NPS paper maps. Their software and data stack is familiar to us, built around TileMill. The results so far are stunning, familiar from trips to the parks, and they're still working hard to improve the style and rendering process. And they're documenting the process, introducing the rational for the tiles, and delving into the technicals.

Just the other day, they used all this to roll out a real time Blue Ride Highway road closure map!

If you look closely, you'll see that OpenStreetMap is a key part of these tiles. Right now, they bring in OSM mostly for detailed and correct roads. But more is possible. The level of data comprehensiveness and freshness varies a lot across the parks, depending on whether they have an active GIS resource; some places are up to date, others not. OpenStreetMap is similar. Some parks have amazing detail collected, beyond what's traditionally available in NPS Maps, while others are barely mapped at all in OSM. There's potential for a virtuous cycle of sharing between the NPS and OSM. To that, there's been work led by User:Glassman to identify candidate NPS data for import, and devise a tagging scheme for the National Parks.

This allows public domain NPS data to flow into OSM, but what about the other way. Of course, there are license issues. But otherwise, there's the interesting technical question of how to manage, conflate, and synchronize multiple master databases. The NPMaps team are looking at setting up their own infrastructure (ie local osm_website) to manage and collect change. GeoGit is an emerging approach to integrating OSM into GIS workflows. Or perhaps OSM can be something like a monitoring tool for NPS, changes providing details to their own surveyors and cartographers. What's helpful about the NPS case is the very well defined data boundaries, which will make it easier to try different legal and technical approaches to data sharing.

I suggested that MappingDC would be able to experiment and collaborate, by organizing mapping parties focused on NPS data collection and management, with local park managers and mapping folks. The Star Spangled Banner Trail might be too diffuse. Rock Creek Park, right in DC, is convenient and enjoyable and interesting. So I'm ready to discuss more with the park management at Rock Creek, and see if we can organize an event for sometime when things warm up a bit!

Comment from Glassman on 4 February 2013 at 23:25

Great to see someone else interested in mapping our National Parks. Most likely there are many people involved, we just don't hear from them.

Take a look at [WikiProject US National Parks.]( The wiki page is a place where we can document tools available to help map the parks. I would appreciate it if you could add your findings about the NPMap team to the page. There is also a link to a [NPS icon to OSM tag.]( It has many holes. Plus we need to get some new tags approved for use. For example ranger station. While we could use some existing tag, it wouldn't all that clear. And hopefully we can use this as a resource to get more people involved.

I was also thinking of proposing to the US community a Mapping Party of parks on June 1-2. This would coincide with the National Day of Civic Hacking.

I'm hoping I can count on your help. I can be reached directly at clifford at

Clifford AKA Glassman

Comment from mikelmaron on 4 February 2013 at 23:28

Thanks Glassman. Will definitely keep in touch, and I'm happy to help and build on the shoulders of what you've done. As things develop, I'll definitely update the wiki. Something on the National Day of Civic Hacking is a great idea too.

Comment from z-dude on 5 February 2013 at 12:14

The NPS map looks nice. they even map out Alaska, and render the stuff in between - Canada

Comment from chimani on 7 February 2013 at 16:01

Great to see lots of focus on the national parks data within OSM. Chimani has also been slowing working on the data behind the scene (mainly for the big parks) and just did a soft release of our own OSM-sourced maps for all our national park apps. For more details:

Also, here's a video on our app in the Grand Canyon which highlights our OSM-sourced map for the park.

Regards, Kerry

Comment from tpcolson on 26 April 2013 at 22:31

The only challange I see to this is the "edit wars" that often crop up between groups of editors. If you encourage a park to contribute their highly accurate and officially-vetted GIS data to OSM, where a local group may have already contributed not-so-accurate and definitely-not-vetted data, there can be some ruffled feathers. According to OSM documentation on their WIKI, the local users whom contributed the not-so-accurate data "trump" the NPS. Not sure how that can be worked around.

Comment from mikelmaron on 29 April 2013 at 19:00

tpcolson, edit wars occur much less often then you might think. It's not a matter of trumping, but rather, of conversation and collaboration. So far, for the parks, we've seen really good collaboration between authoritative data and community collected data. It's about creating the best map after all, and we all recognize we can do it better together. And you're already part of it ;) since you've done a great job using your wiki to document the Smoky Mountain map. Mt Renier Park Tiles are also a good example of this. This post has another of examples where authoritative sources and community are working together (and this is just the US).

Anyway, if you have some specific concerns, let's all talk and figure it out.

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