Outdoor Recreation Data Network

We are a network of individuals and organizations who are actively developing, testing, and applying data-intensive methods in order to innovate outdoor recreation science, decision-making, and stewardship. This community of researchers, practitioners, managers, data experts, and advocates has a shared interest in information that helps sustain recreation on public lands.

Our community of practice has several goals:

  • Connect researchers and practitioners
  • Provide a forum for applied research and practical problem-solving
  • Develop and evaluate recreation monitoring techniques
  • Advance crowd-sourced and community science approaches
  • Build software and tools for managing and visualizing data
  • Facilitate data sharing and data governance
  • Promote ethical research and visitor privacy


Guidance Documents


About the Data Network

Evaluating recreation monitoring techniques

Providing recreation opportunities that meet the desires of an increasingly diverse visitor population while also conserving the natural environment requires timely and reliable information on recreation visits as well as visitor characteristics and preferences. Accurate visitor estimation is fundamental to effective resource management. Traditional approaches to recreation monitoring, such as traffic counters and visitor surveys have proven useful for gathering consistent, long-term, data on recreation on public lands. However, these traditional approaches are time-consuming, relatively costly, and challenging to use. Smartphones, social media, mobile apps, and a variety of other new technologies offer information that improves the timeliness, resolution, and cost-effectiveness of data collection when used alongside traditional methods.

Advancing crowd-sourced and community science approaches

Actively crowd-sourcing information through community science efforts and supporting technologies provides further opportunity to directly engage with visitors, to more quickly understand recreation use, and provide for better customer experiences. Supplementing traditional approaches with new technology and new data sources – from social media, location-based services, or actively requested digital data and community science – has potential to improve the coverage and frequency of visitor estimates and reduce the cost to monitor recreation use.

Connect researchers and practitioners

Our community of practice grew out of a series of workshops in 2018 and 2019 that assembled a approximately 50 leaders in the field to discuss the current state of knowledge and the gaps that hinder management. This group continues to work together to advance our understanding of the return on investment of data-intensive approaches that rely social media, mobile phone locations, and other volunteered geographic data for visitor monitoring – including when, where, and how these approaches are best used. Through applied research and design, the network aims to create methods and tools that are accurate, legitimate, and relevant for real-life applications in park management.

Community members

Funding to establish the data network was provided by the Bullitt Foundation, US Department of Interior Office of Policy Analysis, and US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.


Anyone who is eager to test and apply new data and analytical methods for outdoor recreation management is encouraged to contact Spencer Wood.