Clemson and National Park Service unveil digital repository for national and state parks

Clemson University and the National Park Service have released the Open Parks Network, a digital gallery of rare and unique material from the archives of the country’s national parks, historic sites and battlefields. The network’s website is growing perpetually and currently features more than 100,000 high-resolution, public domain images.

The project team added 40 photo albums of material from Yellowstone National Park to coincide with the National Park Service Centennial on Aug. 25. Brett Wright, dean of the Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences and project sponsor, said the original idea for the network was born from the desire of many park professionals to create a seamless network of information related to parks.

The network’s collections are mostly photographic, but also include architectural plans and maps, all covering a wide range of topics and eras. These collections have many potential uses, such as interpretation and research that deals with pre-park history and land acquisition for park establishment. For professional park managers and rangers, the collection serves as a working body of documents to aid in park infrastructure and maintenance.

The process required to build the collection took roughly six years, and the majority of historical items were scanned at Clemson Libraries’ Digital Imaging Lab. The team coordinated and occasionally personally moved large shipments of material to and from this facility. If materials were too fragile to move, the team was required to scan items on site. These efforts resulted in the production of nearly 350,000 digital items that continue to be published online and added to the network’s collections.

One of the most compelling collections that showcases the public as park stakeholders is the record of more than 141,000 names and addresses of people who donated to create the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in the early 20th century. Through this process of attaching information to material, Wittmann and the team have seen the usual park activities like camping, picnicking and hiking framed through the lenses of various eras of American history.

The Open Parks Network was originally funded by a national leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and continues with support from the National Park Service’s Southeast Regional Office and Clemson University.

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