Tips for Users

The reason YOU have come to this website is different than the next person's. Find tips tailored to your purposes.

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Be sure to also check out the general Quick Tips on the Help page.

Explore this page:

Tips for park visitors: How can I use the online field guide to make the most of my visit?

Read over the section of the website about the park. You may especially enjoy the Seasonal Highlights page for each natural community. Make a list of what you’d particularly like to see on your visit. Go to the Map Viewer to find the location of each item. You can also use the Map Viewer to plan where you’ll park and where you’ll eat your picnic lunch. If you’d like to explore the park, use the Build a Hike tool to put together a hike, with information about length, difficulty, accessibility, and all the natural and cultural features you’ll see on the hike. You can even print out a report of your hike to carry with you, or share the report to view on your smart phone. Explore the Map Viewer Tutorial to learn more.

Note: If you use a wheelchair, you can find a list of accessible trails and picnic areas by typing “wheelchair” in the search box on the Map Viewer. For Rock Creek Park, type “visual” in the search box to find a short trail that’s accessible for people with low vision. Click on any item in the results box for more detailed information about it.

Contact information for individual parks and places can be found on the main landing page for each on this website.

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Tips for teachers: What parts of this online field guide will be most interesting to me and my students?

You can use the website to plan a visit to the park (see Tips for visitors) or to come up with ideas for research projects (see Tips for researchers). Divide your class into small groups and have each group use the website and Map Viewer to plan a field trip to the park. Then have the class vote on which itinerary they would like to follow.

If you can’t manage a field trip, your students can use the website to learn about natural communities in the classroom. The section called Ecology Basics is full of information about plant adaptations, interactions among plants and animals, natural processes (such as fire, climate, and succession), and ecological threats (such as non-native invasive plants, severe natural disturbances, and stormwater runoff).

Students may especially enjoy learning how to use the Map Viewer, which is using GIS (geographical information system) technology. Spend a little time with the Map Viewer Tutorial yourself to get an idea of all the ways your students could learn about natural communities and about the power of a GIS system. For example, you could challenge your students to use the Map Viewer tools to plan a route for a new trail in the park, and to write a description of the hike (location, length, difficulty) and a guide to what a hiker would see along that trail.

Contact information for individual parks and places can be found on the main landing page for each on this website.

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Tips for researchers: How can I use the website to generate research ideas or to prepare for a research visit?

Explore the Map Viewer to generate research questions. You can use six different basemaps, including one aerial and one satellite map. On top of these, you can layer many different types of information to look for possible relationships among different factors. For more information about how to unleash the capabilities of the Map Viewer, visit the Map Viewer Tutorial.

If you’re planning a research trip to the park, use the website and Map Viewer to make the most of your visit. Let’s say you are studying the range of a particular salamander that lives nearby but hasn’t been recorded in the park or natural area. Use the Map Viewer to locate suitable habitat, figure out which trails will take you to that habitat, and plan where to park your car.

Research permits are needed if you wish to do a project at a National Park Service location. This gives a clear means of communicating with park staff. For more information about research applications and the reporting process, see: https://irma.nps.gov/rprs/Home.

Contact information for individual parks and places can be found on the main landing page for each on this website.

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Tips for neighbors: I live near a park featured here. What is there for me on this website?

Read the Stewardship and Ecological Threats pages in the section about your neighboring park to learn how to landscape your yard in ways that support nearby natural communities. Get inspiration about which species to plant in your yard by learning about the natural communities in the natural area. Use the website to plan visits to the park (see Tips for visitors) and/or to get ideas for volunteering in the park (see Tips for volunteers).

Contact information for individual parks and places can be found on the main landing page for each on this website.

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Tips for volunteers. How can I use the website to help me volunteer in a park?

Contact the park and ask if the park has a volunteer program, or if there is a citizen’s group associated with the park. If you have a group that would like to do a one-day or ongoing project, contact the park for permission and guidance. Team leaders may find the Map Viewer helpful for planning a workday. For example, you can locate natural communities that are particularly prone to invasion by non-native plant species, or ensure that an area is accessible by a trail. In addition, you and your group can use the website to learn to identify the target non-native invasive species, or any native species that are rare, threatened, or endangered (RTE) or special to that community so you can avoid damaging them if you come across them.

Contact information for individual parks and places can be found on the main landing page for each on this website.

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Tips for park staff. I’m a park manager, park ranger, or park interpreter. How can I get the most out of this website?

The website contains a wealth of useful information and the Map Viewer relates much of this information to specific locations in your park. Let’s say you want to monitor your park for the emerald ash borer. You can find photos and information about this non-native insect pest on the website, then search the website to find the natural communities where white ash trees and green ash trees are most likely to grow, and use the Map Viewer to locate these natural communities. Park rangers can survey these areas to look for ash trees and see whether they’ve been affected by the emerald ash borer.

If you want to reroute a trail—the Map Viewer can help you pick a new route that will minimize damage to a rare or fragile natural community. And what will you replant after trail construction is done? Use the Map Viewer to identify the natural community, and the website to identify characteristic species in that community.

If you want to plan a nature walk, the website and Map Viewer will point out both natural and cultural features you might encounter on the trail. Check out the Map Viewer Tutorial to begin exploring the possibilities.

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