Frequently Asked Questions

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Have a question? Explore these categories:

General Questions

How do I get started?

Go to Where to Begin on The Basics page to discover 4 main ways to dive into this information-rich website.

What about using and sharing the photographs on this website?

Many of the photographs were contributed by individuals who are sharing them under Creative Commons licenses. Please pay attention to the caption in Flickr and honor the Creative Commons license they selected. The rest of the photographs are being shared under the Creative Commons license CC BY. Here are the definitions of the Creative Commons licenses:


This license lets others use (distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon) the individual's work, even commercially, as long as they credit the individual for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered


This license lets others use (remix, tweak, and build upon) the individual's work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit the individual and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on the individual's will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia.


This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the individual.


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon the individual's work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge the individual and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.


This license lets others use (remix, tweak, and build upon) the individual's work non-commercially, as long as they credit the individual and license their new creations under the identical terms.


This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing others to download the individual's works and share them with others as long as they credit the individual, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

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I have a photograph I'd like to offer for use on this website.

Let us know—Contact Us.

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Can I use the website from my mobile device?

Yes! This website and interactive maps are adapted for use in any size screen.

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Natural Communities—Locating and Identifying

I want to see a particular natural community in a park—where should I look?

Go to the park's interactive map (Map Viewer) on this website, and look for Good Places to See Natural Communities. Each of these is represented by a red asterisk with an arrow. (If you don't see these, be sure the Good Places layer is turned on in Layers On/Off.) Type "good places" into the search tool to see an interactive list of all the Good Places to See Natural Communities in the park. Pick one! (See Learn About a Location in the Map Viewer Tutorial for more.)

You can also click on any red asterisk to find out what natural community it features.

How can I use the website to figure out what natural community I'm seeing while visiting a park?

When you're in a park, you can choose to see your location on this website's interactive Map Viewer. (See Find My Location in the Park in the Map Viewer Tutorial.) Tap your location on the map to get the name of the natural community, and to drill as deeply as you care to for images and more information.

Otherwise, you have a few choices:

  • Look at the park's Map Viewer on this website, and locate where you are (were). Click or tap the spot on the map to find out what natural community is there. (If several natural communities show up, zoom in and try again.)
  • Use the process of elimination to figure out what natural community you're seeing (saw): try out the Compare Communities tool, if it's available for that park. You can find it on park pages that describes one of its natural communities. (Check out the  Compare Communities tool for Rock Creek Park.) Choose two or more natural communities in a park to compare. Look at the descriptions in the resulting chart to see if you can figure out what natural community you are (were) in.
  • Visit the pages about a specific natural community in a park, if available, for a quick "How to Recognize It" image gallery and list of key features. You'll also find seasonal highlights, lists and photos of its main plants and animals, and descriptions about its typical landscape position. There are sometimes tips to distinguish that community from other similar ones.

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Plants and Animals

How can I identify an interesting plant or animal I saw in a park?

This website is not intended to be a guide to identifying individual plants and animals. However, if you're in the park, you can choose to see your location in the park (See Find My Location in the Park in the Map Viewer Tutorial.) Then zoom in and tap your location on the map to find the natural community you are in. In Results, check out Details (if available) to view pictures of plants in that natural community and try to find a match.

From elsewhere in Explore Natural Communities, you can look at the park's photo album or its list of commonly seen plants or animals under its Natural History. Better yet, go to the Plants and Animals page of the natural community where you saw the plant or animal, and see whether you can find it there. (Not sure what natural community you were in? See Natural Communities—Locating and Identifying, above.) There are a couple of ways to look at photos on the Plants and Animals page:

  • Click/tap the names of species marked with a leaf—these open a pop-up with a photo, text, and a link to more photos (if available).
  • Follow links to Flickr photo albums (if available). Select any photo in the collage to open up a caption.

I want to see a particular plant or animal in a park—where should I look?

Search for the name of the plant or animal on the webpages for that park. In the results, look for a natural community it's associated with.

On the interactive park map (Map Viewer) for Rock Creek Park, you can also use the search tool to search for a plant name; explore items in the results box for details and where they are located on the map.

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Interactive Park Maps (Map Viewer)

What is a Map Viewer?

This website's Map Viewer gives you powerful ways to view and interact with the map for each park. Display as much or as little information as you wish by turning "on" or "off" layers of the map. For instance, you can overlay trails on a soils map or a natural communities map. Add recreational facilities (picnic areas), historic sites, and so forth, as you wish.

The Map Viewer automatically adapts to the size screen you are using, whether desktop, tablet, or smart phone.

Visit the Map Viewer Tutorial to learn how to unleash the capabilities of the interactive Map Viewer.

Go to the webpages about a particular park featured on this website (under Parks and Places) and check out About Maps and Trails for information specific to that park's map.

Where do I find the Map Viewer?

Go to Parks and Places and notice the blue globe icon associated with each park's map. All of the interactive park maps on this website are presented using the Map Viewer. Select one to see an example of Explore Natural Communities' Map Viewer. Or follow this link to check out the interactive map of Rock Creek Park.

How can I see the trails?

Trails are shown when you first open a map, and continue to display unless turned off, or unless the map is zoomed out too far. Do this if they've been turned off:

  • Large screens: Under Layers On/Off (right side of screen), scroll down to Trails and make sure they are turned on. (Don't see Layers On/Off? Click Open Layers/Legends.)
  • Small screens/mobile: Tap Open Layers/Legends (top of screen), then Layers On/Off. Scroll down to Trails and make sure they are turned on.
  • Still don't see trails? Try zooming in on the map a bit, if you are zoomed far out.

How do I use the Map Viewer to find a place in the park that contains something I’m looking for?

  • Use the Map Viewer's search function (left side of screen). Looking for a restroom? Enter “restroom” or "bathroom" in the search box and a whole list appears. Explore each result for details like hours and location. Try searching for “picnic area” or “invasive species” or “American beech” or “tennis” or “jack-in-the-pulpit” or “historic quarry” or “Natural Highlights” or “Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest.” For more tips, visit the Map Viewer Tutorial.
  • You can also use Layers On/Off in the Layers/Legends panel (right side of map) to display features that interest you (such as Recreational Facilities, or Roads/Parking).

How can I customize what to display on the Map Viewer?

  • In Layers On/Off (in the Layers/Legends panel, right side of screen), you can hide or display things that interest you. The default view typically displays Natural Communities, Audio Podcasts (if available), Good Places to See Natural Communities, Natural Highlights, Trails, Park Boundaries, and Streams & Open Water. Other options differ slightly from park to park. For more tips, visit the Map Viewer Tutorial.

How do I use the Map Viewer to get information about a particular area in the park?

  • The interactive map viewer is your gateway to an amazing amount of information about a park. Just click/tap anywhere on the map within the park. A results box opens showing lots of information about what you can find at that location—the natural communities, the geology, the soils, points of interest, trails, restrooms, and more. Click Details (if available) for more information about any feature. Tips: Too few results in the results box? Turn on Include Hidden Layers to include information about features you don't have displayed on the map. To narrow down results, zoom in on the map and try again—your new results will cover a smaller area. For more tips, visit the Map Viewer Tutorial.

How can I print a copy of the map?

You can use the Export tool to export the map as a PDF (or other format) file that you can print out. (See Export Map in the Map Viewer Tutorial.)

Find other tips in the Map Viewer Tutorial.

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