ISU Technology Students have teamed up with Starved Rock to create an app that helps visitors navigate around the State Park.
Sarah Walczynski, director of Training and Advanced Projects in the College of Arts and Sciences, worked closely with the students in the class IT 391, Professor Tibor Gyires, and the park’s entities to develop a multifunctional resource, which is easy to use.
Walczynski is also a part of the Starved Rock Foundation, which due to recent budget cuts in the State of Illinois have had to stretch every penny. One place they have noted waste is the production of paper maps that most people do not recycle.
Now, this app includes an interactive map that pinpoints the walkers’ exact location on the trail. This way, if a person gets lost, they can use the interactive map within the app to get back on course.
“Initially, the main purpose was so people could know where they are on the trail but we have added value added information categories as well,” Walczynski said.
“We get a majority of visitors from the Chicagoland area as well as international locales. Many of these visitors are used to much more signage. Since they often enter the park without going through any sort of orientation it can often be disconcerting.”
In addition to the map, the Starved Rock app has the option of filters, Cory Starr said, an Information Systems graduate who was one of the leaders in the project.
“The way we set it up is so they can really tailor their experience when they’re there; they can set a filter to the different types of information they want,” Starr explained.
The categories available in these filters include information about the geography, history or natural features within the park.
Walczynski said they are also considering adding a special alerts feature, to help the visitors stay aware of emergencies or special events at Starved Rock.
“For functionality, there is one side that has the general park information, and flips over to the maps side which shows all of the points and flags on the map,” Starr explained.
This app is still in the process of being mobilized, and while it was initially made for Android phones, upon completion iOS devices will be able to access it as well.
The name is still being determined, but Walczynski said that their goal is to keep the app free, and hopefully to have it ready to launch by Memorial Day Weekend of 2014.
There will be advertising around the Bloomington-Normal area to celebrate the ISU connection of it, Walczynski said.
“It is a perfect symbiosis where students are learning skills at a State University, helping a State Park that has seen budget challenges, engaging in volunteerism … the State Park returns not only a fantastic portfolio project but an experience for the general public,” she explained.
The two teams worked together well, and mobile programming was a new experience for a lot of them, Starr said.
“We all were pretty excited about the project. You can’t beat working for something local,” he added.
“We all liked the aspect that it was so close and personal. It gave ourselves a lot of information about the park.”
As far as advertising in the park, Walcyznski explained they will contact local radio stations, newspapers and social media to get people to download the app.
Additionally, there will be QR code boxes placed on the existing signs to hopefully help the visitors get information and be comfortable with the new resource.
“It adds a richness and robustness to the visit,” Walczynski explained.
“For many this will add to the natural beauty the park already offers. For other, like the elderly or disabled, it offers the opportunity to still enjoy this natural treasure through the app.”