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Tech Talk

The National Parks download the new century

6/22/2016

Summer in America is all about adventure. The old adage is that we’re a country descended from immigrants and explorers, a people who aren’t satisfied to stay put and endure. The true American spirit is found on the frontier, taking in the untouched beauty of nature. Whether you’re a traveler who unplugs from the world to be one with the wild or a digital pioneer who needs constant connection to air conditioning, satellite television and 4G coverage, the great outdoors doesn’t care — all are welcome. Natl Parks App copyThis year is a significant one for digital and analog explorers as the National Park Service (NPS) is turning 100 years old. While conservationists and publications are using the centennial anniversary to sing the park system’s praise, the Service itself is not resting on its heritage. As the NPS enters a new century, it has unveiled a comprehensive digital application guide to each national park, free of charge.

Whether you’ve visited Yosemite, Glacier, Acadia or the Great Smoky Mountains, any patron can tell you the information guides and paper maps system are horrendous. Every visitor falls in love with the park itself but more than likely gets lost in the process. For decades, the National Parks Service has disseminated free, magazine-stock, two-sided fold-out maps. While these maps are convenient to have while exploring, they’re renowned for being hard to orient and read, not having detailed information on landmarks, and tearing almost immediately. Of course, those headaches happen if you don’t misplace it the moment it is acquired.

For generations, these maps were the best tool for navigating a park, but then along came the mobile revolution and smartphones. It has been almost a decade since the app wave struck, but to be fair, the NPS is in deep financial turmoil. Developing an app takes time, capital, talent and patience. While the NPS may be late to the application party, the moment it is downloaded, you discover it was worth the wait.

Developed by Chimani, the National Park Service series of applications is an explorer’s dream with its GPS-guided map features, connection-free park information, personalized travel diaries, park visit check-in rewards, vacation planning services, park amenities lists, news and updates directly from park rangers, photo galleries to help visitors identify sites and markers, conservation information and much more — all for free. Each of the 59 national parks has its own dedicated application, and outside of Chimani-branded gear, the entire line of applications is free of in-app purchases or park premium options. Every piece of information and park visiting tool is available, complimentary of Chimani.

Probably the most fun feature of the Chimani apps is the check-in feature. Once you are physically in a park, and check-in via the app’s GPS features, Chimani will award the user “National Parks Level Progress” points. Long-time park fans may remember the park passport system, where avid visitors could get park stamps for their visits. Well, the Chimani apps have replicated that system with game-style level and park badges. It provides a whole new excuse to visit a favorite park again and level up your Chimani status.

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Hardcore backcountry adventurers may look down their noses at a smartphone application ruining the natural majesty of the NPS, but those dinosaurs can jump off a cliff. The NPS is 100 years old, and with innovations such as these, hopefully it will be around another 100 years. It might not please everyone, but these new tools have a good chance of recruiting future park acolytes who currently can’t put their devices down. CV

 

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

 

 

 

 

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