Outdoor Opportunity Map Methods

Data Sources & Acquisition

Geospatial data on county and local parks and open space was obtained from the GeoData@Wisconsin database for each of the included counties. This data was voluntarily submitted to the Arthur H. Robinson Map Library, a unit of the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, by local communities between 2016-2018. Not all communities voluntarily submitted their data; therefore, only those counties with polygon-type data available through the database were included. The only exception is the data for Dane County, which was obtained through the county. Geospatial data on the State of Wisconsin and national parks and open spaces was obtained from the United States Geological Survey. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provided geospatial data for public schools throughout the state, and geospatial data for the University of Wisconsin 2- and 4-year campuses was provided by University of Wisconsin System administration. Data on the road network used to analyze access was developed by OpenStreetMap, and obtained from GEOFABRIK Downloads.

Data Review

The county and local park and open space data used in the analysis was developed and submitted by individual counties. Individual communities choose what types of places are included in the data they submit and, therefore, may choose to include different features in their datasets. To ensure greater consistency between counties and to better reflect the purpose of the measure, each dataset was reviewed and features within the dataset were removed if they fell into the following categories:

  • Not open for public access

  • Likely require a considerable fee upon entry (e.g. golf course)

  • Indoor facilities

  • Recreational activities likely not permitted on the premises (e.g. cemeteries, museums)

  • Access likely requires an exclusive membership (e.g. sportsman clubs, yacht clubs)

  • Only accessible from a freeway

  • Shooting firearms as the primary activity

  • Site solely owned by a private individual

  • Primarily functions as a public utility site

Measurement & Analysis

For the Wisconsin Outdoor Opportunity Map, access is based on the distance it would take to walk to the edge of the nearest recreation site based on the road network, which includes all roads (except for freeways), trails, and bicycle and pedestrian paths. Analysis was preformed using ESRI ArcMap 10.6.1 software. For a general description of the process and analysis tools used, see the Measuring access to parks blog entry on the ESRI website.


  • Road network: System of interconnected roads, paths, and trails used for travel

  • Geospatial data: Data that identifies geographic location, and in some cases, attributes of the locations

  • Site: a physical location, usually a parcel of land or defined area with a specific use

  • Feature: represents a site within a geospatial dataset


Since the local park and open space data used for this analysis was developed by individual communities, some types of sites may be included in some datasets and not others. For example, some communities included trails, greenways, boat launches, and protected lands, while others may have only included sites managed by a local park and recreation department. For this reason, comparisons between counties should be approached with caution.

In some areas of the map, there may be sites used for outdoor recreation that were not included in the analysis. This could be because they were not included in the original datasets, or because they were removed because they are not open to the public or require a membership or considerable fees. Golf courses and private parks managed by neighborhood associations are common examples.

It is also possible that sites included on the map have restricted access or are not appropriate for outdoor recreation activities due to unknown factors. For instance, some school sites, especially those in denser, urban neighborhoods, may not have adequate outdoor space for recreation activities. Some may only allow public access during specific days and times, or not at all. Other sites may have changed use or relocated after the data was created.

Other geographic factors, like park entry points or impassible vegetation, could cause inaccuracies in levels of access. For very large parks like state recreation and natural areas, entrances may be limited to only a few points along the boundary of the park. This can cause parks to appear more accessible than they are because access was measured to the nearest point on the boundary rather than the nearest entrance point.