Introducing Places

Posted on 04 Jun 2014 by Jim McAndrew

Editing Points of Interest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The National Park Service manages 401 special places across America, ranging from small cultural parks to some of the world’s most iconic natural parks. Unfortunately, under the traditional GIS paradigm many of these parks don’t have the resources to develop or maintain their own geographic information. The Places project aims to address this problem by making it easy for non-technical Park Service employees to contribute their own information and local knowledge through an easy-to-use web interface.

Data collected through Places is rendered in our Park Tiles basemap, which is used on many National Park Service web pages and will soon be used by Park iOS and Android apps built on top of the Places Mobile app framework. Data from Places can also be accessed by developers and other systems through a set of REST-based web services.

Our goal is to refresh Park Tiles with changes/additions made in Places on a daily basis, although this refresh is currently a manual process.

Built on OpenStreetMap

As demonstrated by the user stats, the OpenStreetMap project has done a tremendous job building tools that make mapping more accessible to everyone - including those who have no previous experience creating or maintaining geospatial data. Places is built on these same tools, allowing us to take advantage of the hard work done by the OpenStreetMap community as well as contribute resources back.

Existing OpenStreetMap users will recognize the tagging style and the Places Editor itself, which is a slightly-customized version of iD. New users will be able to get up-and-running quickly, allowing them to contribute their knowledge to the map.


This initial release is limited to the National Park Service’s Points of Interest dataset. The editor includes presets and icons for the Harpers Ferry Center map symbols.

We intentionally limited the scope of this release to give us some time to incrementally build out the internal system architecture. We will, however, soon add support for buildings, roads, trails, and other “core” data themes.

Integration with GIS

We see the Places system as being a good complement to, and not a replacement for, the National Park Service’s GIS program. To that end, we are working on ways to more tighly integrate Places with our internal GIS. We also plan on automating the upload of “GIS-friendly” datasets to the National Park Service’s Data Store, where they can be downloaded by NPS employees and members of the public.

Getting Started

Places is only available to those who can access the National Park Service network. NPS employees, partners, and volunteers can access the Places Editor at The first time you start editing, you will be given the option to run through a demo. You can also walk through a Getting Started tutorial and find out more about the system on the project wiki.

You can also jump directly into editing Places (and OpenStreetMap) by clicking on the “Improve Park Tiles” link in the bottom right-hand corner of every map that utilizes Park Tiles.

Click on 'Improve Park Tiles' to jump into editing Places

As always, please let us know what you think by reaching out via email or Twitter. You can also create bug or enhancement requests in the Places issue tracker.