The National Parks download the new century

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Summer in America is all about adventure. The old adage is 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. 2016 is a rather significant year for digital and analog explorers alike as the National Park Service is turning one hundred years old this year. 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 national parks enter a new century of service, they’ve unveiled a comprehensive digital application guides to each national park, free of charge.

Whether you’ve visited Yosemite, Glacier, Acadia, or the Great Smoky Mountains, any Parks patrons can tell you the information guides and paper maps system is 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 giving detailed information on landmarks, and tearing almost the minute one has been placed in your hand. Of course those headaches happen if you don’t lose it the moment it is acquired.

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

Developed by Chimani, the National Park Service series of applications is an explorer’s dream; interactive, 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, much more, and all for free. Not only does each of the 59 U.S. National Parks have it’s own dedicated application, but 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 will 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.

Now hardcore, backcountry adventurers will look certainly down their noses at smartphone application ruining the natural majesty of Natural Parks Service, but those dinosaurs can go 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 very good chance of recruiting future park acolytes who currently can’t put down their devices.

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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