NPS + OSM = Places of Interest

Posted on 12 Jun 2013 by Nate Irwin

Places of Interest Coming Soon

Like many others, we are huge fans of OpenStreetMap (OSM). We use OSM data in many of our projects, and it is also a critical component of our basemap, Park Tiles.

Because of the important role OpenStreetMap plays in our projects and workflows, we have an interest in ensuring OSM coverage for our National Parks is as complete and accurate as possible. Therefore, we want our Parks to be active and engaged citizens in the OpenStreetMap community, and we also want the Park Service as an organization to contribute back to the community in substantive and meaningful ways.

Given all of this, we are excited to announce a new project our team is undertaking for the National Park Service called Places of Interest (or POI). We’ve established two overarching goals for POI:

  1. Streamline the process of getting National Park Service data into OpenStreetMap
  2. Make it as easy as possible for both the public and non-technical NPS employees to help improve Park Service maps

This post will outline our initial thoughts about how we might be able to meet these goals. Our plan is a work-in-progress, and we expect it to evolve as we work our way through the project and learn more from the knowledgeable OpenStreetMap community.

The Plan

Our vision for Places of Interest is an integrated system that facilitates moving data back and forth between OpenStreetMap and our internal NPS datasets. The system will include several different components:

  1. A public-facing instance of the new OSM editor, iD, that the public can use to contribute data to the Park Service.
  2. An internal instance of iD that our employees can use to contribute to OpenStreetMap and/or our datasets.
  3. A set of internal tools that Park Service employees can use to validate data coming in from public contributors and other NPS staff.
  4. Services and tasks that publish data (validated or raw) via web services and file downloads for usage in our digital maps and other applications.

Raw data coming in through the public interface will be pushed to both OpenStreetMap (under the ODbL license) and internal NPS databases, where it will be considered public domain.

If relevant, data created via the internal interface will be pushed to both OpenStreetMap and our internal databases. An example of non-relevant data would be something like the location of water stops along a trail race in a park. We will house this data in a separate system and publish it so it can be consumed by our digital maps, but it would never be pushed into OpenStreetMap or one of our internal enterprise databases.

Relevant data that make it through our internal approval processes will be pushed into the corresponding NPS dataset and will also be tagged as nps:approved=yes and pushed back out to OpenStreetMap.

Here’s a flow diagram to help illustrate how all the different pieces fit together:

Places of Interest Flow Diagram


The benefits to be gained from integrating OpenStreetMap into our internal workflows and data structures are numerous. Places of Interest will allow us to:

Take advantage of an untapped resource

Our National Park Service GIS community does a tremendous job developing and maintaining geospatial data for our Parks, but they are limited in number (some Parks don’t even have local GIS support) and often overtasked. Places of Interest will allow us to take advantage of the 1,000,000+ OpenStreetMap contributors and the 22,000+ Park Service employees who likely don’t even know what GIS stands for. These groups make up a huge untapped resource of motivated individuals who are passionate about our National Parks and willing to help improve our data and maps.

Tell our stories

Places of Interest will also enable those 22,000+ non-technical Park Service employees to tell stories they’ve never been able to tell before. These employees work on-the-ground to protect some of the world’s most beautiful and iconic places, and the knowledge they’ve gained from their experiences needs to be shared.

Up to this point, if a Park Service employee wanted to build a map, they had to overcome numerous hurdles - technical and otherwise. Places of Interest, coupled with a few other tools our team is working on (namely Park Tiles, the NPMap JavaScript library, and the NPMap Builder), will eliminate these hurdles and enable our employees to build and deploy high-quality digital mapping products.

Open up our data and processes

Places of Interest moves the Park Service in the direction defined by President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, which has three primary tenets: Transparency, participation, and collaboration.

One of the primary goals of Places of Interest is to mirror authoritative National Park Service geospatial datasets out to OpenStreetMap, so it can be used by the public, other government agencies, and private organizations in any way they choose. If we can accomplish this goal, we will also be in compliance with President Obama’s May 9, 2013 Executive Order: “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.”

Further our mission

Places of Interest also fits right in line with NPS Director Jon Jarvis’ “A Call to Action” initiative, which is intended to prepare the National Park Service “for a second century of stewardship and engagement.” Specifically, Places of Interest falls in line with two actions:

  1. Go Digital: “Reach new audiences and maintain a conversation with all Americans by transforming the NPS digital experience to offer rich, interactive, up-to-date content from every park and program. To accomplish this we will create a user-friendly web platform that supports online and mobile technology including social media.”
  2. Out with the Old: “Engage national park visitors with interpretive media that offer interactive experiences, convey information based on current scholarship, and are accessible to the broadest range of the public. To that end we will replace 2,500 outdated, inaccurate, and substandard interpretive exhibits, signs, films, and other media with innovative, immersive, fully accessible, and learner-centered experiences.”

Next Steps

This post is just the beginning. Places of Interest is a huge project, and we are not going to be able to change the way the National Park Service “does” geospatial data overnight.

Over the coming months, we are going to tackle a few specific tasks to help move Places of Interest forward:

  1. Introduce our parks to OpenStreetMap and (hopefully) get them excited about engaging with the OSM community.
  2. Work with the NPS and OpenStreetMap communities to improve coverage for our Parks.
  3. Define priority themes and tags for National Park Service data. We will utilize existing OSM tags, where available, and propose new tags and/or use interim tags, where necessary.
  4. Build out the system and pilot its usage and the worfklows in a few parks. Data that our parks contribute to OSM will be tagged nps:verified=yes.

Get Involved

We are excited to work with the OpenStreetMap community, and would also love to have you involved!

If you are interested in helping out, join the talk-us-nps mailing list, where we’ll be posting project updates and Park Service employees will be interacting with members of the OpenStreetMap community. We would also love to hear any feedback you might have. You can reach us at or get in touch on Twitter: @npmap.