OpenStreetMap in the Great Smoky Mountains

With an average of ten million visitors each year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park experiences many visitors who get lost in the park because of inaccurate Location-Based Services (LBS) or outdated maps. Park-issued maps are available at visitor centers, but many visitors rely on navigation assistance from their mobile phones or other GPS devices. This is a major problem because the map data used by many LBS providers does not reflect authoritative data – causing many visitors to follow poor navigation directions.

When the National Park Service NPMap team announced several initiatives built around OpenStreetMap (OSM), the Smokies quickly saw an opportunity to get accurate maps and data into the hands of an increasingly technologically-savvy public. All National Parks must make their authoritative map data available through the NPS Data Store, but few park visitors possess the knowledge or the software required to manipulate the data or load it onto their personal electronic device. OpenStreetMap, on the other hand, is built specifically for non-technical users, and it gives them the ability to edit and interact with the data in a platform of their choosing.

The Smokies update to OSM has been complete for over a year now. Present in the OSM database, available for public use, is what the National Park Service considers essential base data for visitor services: transportation networks, points of interest, and visitor services infrastructure. For example, anyone can consume OSM data from the Smokies and make a map showing the location of visitor centers, ranger stations, campground, and hiking trails – no specialized skills required.

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