US Forest Service and Quantum Spatial improve interactive visitor map

May 17, 2017  - By

Quantum Spatial Inc., an independent geospatial data firm, has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to continually improve its Interactive Visitor Map over the past year, giving the visitors access to easy-to-use, searchable resources through which they can discover and explore recreational opportunities in national forests.

Using feedback from a variety of stakeholders — including forest rangers and the public — Quantum Spatial and the Forest Service have improved navigation, expanded search capabilities, and added alerts about severe weather, fires and floods.

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They also have integrated social media — including Twitter feeds from 120 national forests and grasslands, geolocated Tweets from forest service personnel and crowdsourced content from Yonder, a social media app for outdoor enthusiasts.

The Interactive Visitor Map provides information about 193 million acres of National Forest System land, including 371,000 miles of roads, 158,000 trail miles and more than 24,000 recreation sites.

“As summer approaches, vacationers are looking forward to hiking and camping in national forests,” said Kurt Allen, Quantum Spatial’s vice president, federal vertical lead, public sector. “The Interactive Visitor Map we developed in collaboration with the Forest Service and other partners gives the public a convenient, easy-to-use online resource from which they can learn more about their destinations and plan their trips.”

The Interactive Visitor Map was developed by a cross-functional team of contractors, with Quantum Spatial leading the architecture redesign portion of the project. Quantum Spatial focused on presenting maps and data in a way that is logical and easier for users to navigate, as well as adding social media functionality.

Typically in contracts for projects such as this, the parameters are set in advance, leaving very little flexibility to adapt as the project evolves and the needs change over time. The Forest Service took a different approach, calling for agile software development in its contract, to help speed development and enable them to quickly pivot to make unanticipated improvements to the map.

The approach, which is unconventional among government agencies, enabled the team to deliver new features of the map on an incremental basis.

“The Forest Service has taken a very visionary approach in using agile development. During the past year, we have been able to systematically improve the map’s usability and deliver richer content, based on feedback from a range of real users,” said Cherie Jarvis, eGIS practice lead at Quantum Spatial, which has been providing geospatial services to the Forest Services for 15 years. “We are honored to partner with the Forest Service on this project to achieve its mission of quickly delivering in-demand resources to the public.”

Since the map was initially introduced, usage has grown from an average of 1,000 page views a day to more than 2,000 page views a day now, with an upward trajectory anticipated to continue as the summer season approaches.

“The latest iteration of our Interactive Visitor Map has been very well received, and usage has grown considerably,” said Donavan Albert, national web manager for the Forest Service’s Office of Communication. “We have gotten great feedback from our rangers, who use it as a primary resource to answer visitors’ questions, as well as the public who find useful information for planning their trips and have the ability to share images and details about their favorite destinations.”

The Forest Service expects to continue making refinements to the map. Improvements planned for the future include the ability to more precisely geolocate Tweets and expansion of the content into a mobile app that is functional in environments where there is limited or no internet connectivity.

This article is tagged with and posted in Featured Stories, GIS News, Mapping, Technology
Tracy Cozzens

About the Author:

Tracy Cozzens has served as managing editor of GPS World magazine since 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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