iSGTW Feature - Open Parks Grid

Feature - Open Parks Grid: Managing natural and historic sites

Image courtesy of OPG.

Widely considered integral to a healthy environment and society, parks and protected areas require care and maintenance by experts in diverse fields. In a digital society, a digital link may help perpetuate parks' unique resources and public interest in them. The Open Parks Grid (OPG) initiative aims to build this link.

Brett Wright, chairman of Clemson University's parks, recreation and tourism management department, initiated the effort in 2007 to integrate the U.S. National Parks and the people who use, manage and study them. The institute proposes the Open Parks Grid will serve as a communication tool, and a virtual gateway to parks around the world.

"Along with the diverse group of professionals you find in park management, come communications challenges," said Wright. Remote locations, limited funding, and isolated management practices contribute to the challenges, he said.

The OPG's first cyberinfrastructure tool will be a research repository for scientists in which to assemble completed research documents on climate change, species loss, ecosystems change, and other macro-level concerns. Wright explained that this will help to bridge the researcher-manager communication gap. No matter what the issue - historical or wildlife preservation, visitor management, environmental practice, or other - OPG will help to get the right research to the right manager so that he or she can make better decisions.

Ninety Six National Historic Site, revolutionary war reenactment.

Image courtesty of NPS.

"When you're at a park, there's no library next door," said Wright. "We want to match researchers and their research to management needs." To this end, the OPG developers envision providing a Web portal that both park managers and researchers can use to find each other and access the repository.

For example, a park manager responsible for a population of an endangered species might place a research request on the OPG portal for a viability study of the species under various scenarios, and list possible funding sources. A university researcher interested in this topic could pick up this request, form a collaborative relationship with the manager, acquire funding, access data and tools in the repository, and perform the study. The results would feed back into the repository, enriching it further.

"As we build this, we'll start out with a small, nearby region," said Wright. "We have a great partner in the Southeast region of the National Parks Service." The collaborating parks in this first phase include Congaree and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, Cowpens National Battlefield, Ninety Six National Historic Site, and the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area.

Once OPG gets the first tools in place and users start benefiting from them, the Clemson team plans to branch out and eventually address a suite of communications and research problems they've identified, and to expand OPG to the entire U.S. and internationally.

-Anne Heavey, iSGTW