Trailhead Labs Applies OpenTrails Data Standards to Create API and Platform

Mark Boyd
Aug. 12 2014, 12:42PM EDT

California startup Trailhead Labs creates and uses APIs to help city and state authorities publish their outdoor parks information in engaging formats, ready for use as maps, mobile and website content, and for applications. ProgrammableWeb spoke with CEO Ryan Branciforte about how the Code for America 2014 Accelerator participant is using APIs to help everyone have “amazing outdoor experiences.”

trailhead labs

Open Data Standards for Parks and Trails Data

“Trailhead Labs open up your outdoor data and creates beautiful applications,” says Branciforte. “Everyone should have amazing outdoor experiences. Let's make it easy to get outside by providing the information and tools to find, plan and share outdoor adventures. Now you have the power to do this by opening up your outdoor data. Trailhead Labs' outdoor platform, OuterSpatial, makes it easy to convert your data to open standards, manage and publish your data, improve your websites and even build your own amazing outdoor applications.”

Not-for-profit civic tech evangelism agency Code for America has been working on encouraging the use of an open data standard for parks and trails data in order to help public stewards better conserve and manage public park resources, and to foster greater civic engagement and communication around local parks resources. It is hoped the standards will also make it easier to ensure safety for hikers and outdoors visitors, as well as help trekkers and other park users identify interesting park landmarks to visit and enjoy.

Branciforte is one of the advisers on the OpenTrails standards group, while co-founder and Trailhead Labs CTO Jerome Monteau is active in discussions around the draft specifications. Other advisers include Breece Robertson, national GIS director for the Trust for Public Land; the National Recreation and Park Association; Strava, the community of outdoor athletes; and Nate Goldman from the Esri Portland R&D Center.

Branciforte explains the work of OpenTrails:

OpenTrails, the open data standard for trails, is currently being adopted by cities and counties around the country with the help of diversity of nonprofits, outdoor companies and public agencies, including Code for America, Strava, AllTrails, GreenInfo Network, ESRI, NRPA and others. Trailhead Labs has been working closely with Code for America, the lead facilitator on OpenTrails, on creating the standard as well as building conversion, hosting and publishing tools.

OpenTrails is also built on some existing standards. GeoJSON is also a crucial component of enabling the communication of outdoor data since it is geospatial in nature.

OutdoorSpatial Platform and API Release

Trailhead Labs’ next product will be the release of the OutdoorSpatial API as part of an OpenTrails data publishing platform, Branciforte says:

OuterSpatial is a platform for park agencies to convert, manage and publish their outdoor data. The OuterSpatial API (to be released this summer) will provide outdoor data to a growing ecosystem of outdoor applications like Transit & Trails and To The Trails. As more outdoor data is converted into open data standards such as OpenTrails, it will become much easier for developers create awesome outdoor apps. 

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OuterSpatial is the first commercial platform to host, manage, convert and publish OpenTrails-compliant data.

The OuterSpatial platform and API are core to the Trailhead Labs' road map. We envision a growing number of agencies managing their recreation content on the platform and then publishing their data to third-party developers using the OuterSpatial API. Developers have easy access to the most accurate and authoritative recreation data for their area of interest, freeing them up to build all sorts of outdoor applications which benefit the agency, the visitors and the developers.

Emerging and Recent Projects Using Parks Data

Trailhead Labs is looking at new projects that help families and citizens more easily create opportunities to enjoy America’s parklands, Branciforte says:

We hope to enable a world where the best information is available to everyone very easily. We believe that by lowering the barrier to create outdoor applications, people, companies, organizations and local government will come up with creative ways to engage with all of the different demographics, ways that we could never have imagined.

Specifically, we are working on a number of projects to connect youth and families to the outdoors. One in particular is a project with a coalition of federal government agencies to utilize technology to make it much easier for families to get to national parks like Yosemite, without the use of a car.

Already the Code for America Accelerator alum has worked with several California parks authorities to assist in creating applications that heighten end users' experiences — both when searching for information and, more importantly, when visiting the parks, Branciforte says:

In the case of the city of San Jose, they were looking for a mobile solution to make their parks, trails, hikes and bike rides more accessible to their visitors. Transit & Trails, a free outdoor application that we built in partnership with the Bay Area Open Space Council and a variety of other partners in the San Francisco Bay Area, was a good fit. We helped San Jose integrate their trails, hikes and rides into Transit & Trails, and then they promoted the free iPhone app as a resource for their community. We have done the same with Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation but have extended the work by integrating a series of embeddable widgets, including an interactive park finder and trip planner, directly into their website.

We also have done similar work with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and Sonoma County Transit. In both cases, we integrated a robust trip planner and trail and trailhead information directly into the agencies' interactive maps, making it much easier for visitors to find and plan trips to the park. In the case of Sonoma County Transit, their visitors now have access to recreation information for the first time and can plan trips to local parks and trails using the bus system.

Community Engagement Opportunities

While the focus at present is on making more parks data available to power applications built by both city authorities and independent developers, data could conceivably be used in the future to help civic engagement and advocacy around parks resources. New Yorkers for Parks, for example, has recently released a public policy guide to encourage greater advocacy and civic engagement around park maintenance and staffing issues and around allocating resources for new capital projects. As more cities and counties use the OpenTrails standards, developers and community groups could make use of the OuterSpatial platform to create maps and evidence-based resources to strengthen their advocacy and public policy arguments.

Developers thinking of making use of open data on parks and trails can also join the Google Groups discussion group hosted by Code for America.

This article is the final in a series looking at how the 2014 class of Code for America Accelerator startups are using APIs in their civic tech projects. Other startups included in this year’s class include ProductBio, AmigoCloud, MuniRent and SeamlessDocs.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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