New Web Tool to Find Parks

May 10, 2010

California’s State Parks Department and San Francisco-based nonprofit GreenInfo Network on Friday announced a new web-based tool for finding parks, campgrounds, and trails all across the state. The site, at, allows searchable access to GreenInfo’s statewide database of 15,000 parks on 49 million acres of protected land, from huge wilderness areas to tiny tot lots. The hope is to inspire more people than ever to get outside and experience the natural world.

At a press conference announcing the site, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart also premiered a short TV ad he’s made for the state park system. Hart said a few words about his own sense of what a park is: “It’s not a stone or a tree or a flower. It’s a portal onto something spiritual. When I’m in a park, I can be fully human.”

It turns out that there’s some science to back that up, according to San Francisco family physician Dr. Daphne Miller, who also appeared at the press conference. “The recreation finder is a wonderful tool for me as a physician,” said Miller, who added that she actually gives written “park prescriptions” to her patients. “There’s good data that exposure to nature, above and beyond exercise, is good for you.” One study showed that even five minutes a day made a measurable dent in rates of depression.

Larry Orman, executive director of Greeninfo Network (and president of Bay Nature’s board), explained a bit more of what makes the new site special. “It has virtually every park in California at great degrees of accuracy,” said Orman, “and the custom cartography is some of the best on the web.”

Mainstream mapping sites like Google and Bing generally do a poor job of reflecting the true extent of protected lands, at least in California. Small parks might appear huge and some huge parks don’t appear at all. GreenInfo developed its own custom base map where the parks stand out more than any other feature of the landscape.

The source of all that data is GreenInfo’s California Protected Areas Database (, which draws information from some 850 agencies across the state.

At the moment, park finding tool isn’t available on mobile platforms and trail data is a work in progress, Orman said. Trails draw from data entered by users of Open Street Map, a community-built web mapping project.

About the Author

Dan was editor of Bay Nature from 2004 until 2013, when he left to work for SF-based Stamen Design. He is now executive director of GreenInfo Network, a nonprofit mapmaking organization. A onetime professional cabinetmaker, he considers himself a lifelong maker of things and teller of stories. Dan has been working at the intersection of journalism and technology since, at age 16, he began learning reporting, page layout, and database design. His enduring interest in environmental issues crystallized into a career path in 1998 when he assisted former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in a cross-disciplinary nature writing and ecology course at UC Berkeley, from which Dan received a Masters in English literature. In 1999, he became Associate Editor of Terrain, the erstwhile quarterly magazine of Berkeley's Ecology Center. In addition to editing and art-directing Bay Nature magazine, he was also Bay Nature’s chief technology strategist, fixer of broken things, and designer of databases and fancy spreadsheets. And he was even known to leave the office and actually hike outdoors.

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