Our Work 

CSU Research Associates partner with the National Park Service as part of the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit network, a nationwide collaboration of scientists, resource managers, and students. Read on to learn more about our projects. Our work focuses on Geographic Information Systems, Resource Protection, and Web Development in support of NPS resource stewardship priorities. Our projects are inter-related through the integration of diverse datasets for analysis, visualization, sharing, management, and storage.

Research Associates are embedded at various National Park Service offices across the Front Range. Melinda J. Laituri, PhD, (Professor Ecosystem Science and Sustainability) is the Coordinator for Colorado State Univerity’s CESU Research Associates, and the Director of the Geospatial Centroid at CSU.


The RM-CESU improves and disseminates the knowledge base for managing natural and cultural resources in the rapidly changing social, cultural, and environmental landscape of the Rocky Mountain Region, and to extend its expertise to national issues where appropriate.
Learn more –> RM-CESU

RM-CESU Network


The Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESU) Network is a national consortium of federal agencies, tribes, academic institutions, state and local governments, non-governmental conservation organizations, and other partners working together to support informed public trust resource stewardship.

Learn more –> CESU

CESU National Network

Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information Systems

Our GIS projects support the National Park Service’s mission by providing products and support to national parks and NPS staff. Projects range from LiDAR collection and processing, viewshed analysis, to web application development or on the ground training. GIS work includes data and server management, data analysis and distribution of data to the public.


We apply cartographic design best practices to make legible, usable, and beautiful web and mobile maps for the NPS. This work blends visual design principles (visual hierarchy, symbolization, color balance, typography) with enterprise data compilation and management workflows to create a suite of map products with a wide public audience.

Field Data Collection

Park staff need to know where resources are located in their parks. RAs assist with the development of field data collection applications, in field data collection and training with park staff. Data collection projects include accessibility assessments to help parks improve access for all visitors, visitor use and interpretation by mapping the locations of building entrances and interpretive waysides, high-accuracy data collection of natural or cultural resources, and facility management programs such as lighting inventories to support dark sky parks.

Resource Protection

Resource Protection

More than just scenery, our work assists the NPS with the effective use and management of protected areas to
ensure that all future generations will be able to enjoy the benefits they provide.

Water Quality

In collaboration with the NPS Water Resources Division, our water quality projects research and develop new tools, techniques, and databases that present water quality information to the benefit of NPS, states, and the public.

CSU researchers assist the NPS in its endeavors to both leave resources unimpaired for future generations and to address the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates through the acquisition, management, and assessment of water-related data. Our water quality projects include the development of NPSTORET, digitizing existing national and legacy water resource datasets, and development of the Hydrographic and Impairment System (HIS) database. These efforts have produced a number of reports, databases, software tools, GIS coverages (maps), websites, and other products benefiting states and the public.

Cultural Protection

Cultural heritage preservation is about collecting and interpreting stories about people and the many ways they inhabit places. These stories help us to see our similarities and better understand our differences as a society. And this work helps NPS tell a national story of relevance and significance to all.

Natural Disasters

Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, explosions, fires. All disasters of a national scale with effects on people, ecosystems, and infrastructure in and around our national parks. The National Park Service manages wildland fire to protect the public; park communities and infrastructure; conserve natural and cultural resources; and maintain and restore natural ecosystem processes.

Web Development

Web Development

CSU RA’s create mobile-friendly design that makes websites look good on any device. Our work includes collection and use of structured data-essential information that can be shared on external websites, maps, and applications.

Digital Asset Management (DAM)

NPS NPGallery Digital Asset Management System (DAM) is an enterprise system for storing, organizing, and sharing photos and other digital files. NPGallery supports NPS parks and programs with digital asset hosting and delivery services. NPGallery supports web services, support for embedded metadata, and integrated geospatial capabilities.

GIS Interactive Maps

Creating a mobile compatible interactive map that enables visitors to choose among three different park experiences: Ranger Picks – highlighting areas rangers discuss on their guided tours, Best for Kids – a visitor experience the whole family can enjoy, History Exhibits – historical sites and information per park.


Explore the National Historic Trails with this interactive online map: Explore National Historic Trails.  National Historic Trails are designated to protect the remains of significant overland or water routes to reflect the history of the nation.


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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – is spatial data collection, management, analysis, and visualization, primarily using ESRI GIS software (e.g. ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Pro ArcGIS Online). Fieldwork also can include collecting GPS data and photos of NPS assets. Data visualization can involve the design of custom web applications as well as the implementation of existing web mapping templates, such as story maps.

GIS Project Highlights:

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Hydrographic and Impairment System (HIS) – The HIS database provides summary statistics of surface hydrography (acres of lakes, miles of streams, etc.) within and adjacent to each national park unit using the U.S. Geological Survey’s high-resolution National Hydrography Dataset (NHD), the NPS Administrative Park Boundary Dataset, and other sources.

The HIS database provides summary statistics of surface hydrography (acres of lakes, miles of streams, etc.) within and adjacent to each national park unit using the U.S. Geological Survey’s high-resolution National Hydrography Dataset (NHD), the NPS Administrative Park Boundary Dataset, and other sources. Information regarding water impairments is supplied by state management agencies and attributed to NHD to derive impairment statistics for each national park unit. Impaired waters are identified by the State according to CWA Sections 303(d) and 305(b). Users of HIS can obtain an estimate of the total miles of waterway (rivers, streams, canals, etc.), acreage of waterbodies (lakes, reservoirs, ocean, etc.), number of lakes, the acreage of ice mass, and much more about any national park unit or summarized across the entire National Park System. Users can also see which parks contain CWA impaired hydrography, which parks have no hydrography, and which parks are ‘coastal’. HIS also provides information on outstanding national resource waters and state anti-degradation provisions.

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NPSTORET – is a complete water quality database management system that allows users to enter information about their water quality monitoring Projects, Stations, Metadata, and Results in a Microsoft Access database.

NPSTORET is a complete water quality database management system that allows users to enter information about their water quality monitoring Projects, Stations, Metadata, and Results in a Microsoft Access database. Users can generate reports, statistics, and graphics describing entered data. Data can be imported from a variety of data sources and formats, including the major national water quality databases: the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Legacy STORET, EPA’s Modern STORET, U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Information System, and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council’s Water Quality Portal. Export files can also be created for import into Water Quality Portal via the Water Quality Exchange (WQX) format or EarthSoft’s EQuIS database using the NPS’ electronic data deliverable format.

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Park Atlas – is an interactive web map portraying each National Park Service unit’s baseline data as well as national datasets and was developed to support park operations and planning efforts. There are individualized atlases for the over 400 National Park units and support projects ranging from event planning, field data collection support, resource management activities or new staff orientation. While most Park Atlases are only accessible to NPS staff, several are available to the public at large. Check out the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Atlas to learn about their journey and search for the fabled Western Passage.

The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Atlas is one of the few publicly available Park Atlases and displays geographic data related to the historic journey of the Lewis & Clark party as they traversed the western half of the United States on their search for the fabled Western Passage.

Visit the site: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Park

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Park Tiles – is a suite of online basemaps designed to fit the National Park Service’s graphic identity. Built with simplicity and flexibility in mind, Park Tiles basemaps can be used as stand-alone reference maps, or customized web maps with additional data overlays.

More about:  National Park Service: Park Tiles

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Story Maps – RAs use Story Maps to present an engaging combination of maps, text, photos, videos and external links to describe a project or tell a story. Story maps can be created in a variety of formats, using existing templates or custom coding. Different templates allow the author to emphasize text, photos, or maps in your story, and provide several layout options. Story Maps help park staff educate the public about their park or project or have been used internally by small project groups to share progress.

Examples of story maps that CSU RAs have created:

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Transportation – NPS Navigator is a web map application intended to provide transportation planners and related officials in the NPS, DOI, and DOT with a suite of map overlays that depict NPS road infrastructure conditions along with contextual reference data (demographics, political boundaries, NPS regional boundaries, traffic Volume, et al).

More about:  National Park Service: NPS Navigator

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Water Quality: Digitizing National and Legacy Datasets – Datasets are obtained in a variety of forms (electronic files, published and unpublished reports, hand-written field notes, etc.), and processed and uploaded with their associated metadata into NPSTORET. These data range from national data collected currently to legacy data extracted from historic records. Recent data can be from a national program involving multiple parks, or a single park researching a specific aquatic concern. Baseline water quality values also are compiled in NPSTORET. Historic water-related data originate from the parks and other sources, and include physical measurements, visual observations, chemical concentrations, and biological analyses.