The Explore NLT app!
By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager
This cannot pretend to be an unbiased review—let’s just say I love it. This mobile-device app is available for free on iTunes now and will be available for Android devices soon (click the link above or when you’re in the iTunes store search on “Explore NLT”).
It is a guide to our preserves—where to find them (with directions), what to expect when you get here, and a map showing you where you are on our trails as you traverse them. It even tells you the current weather conditions, upcoming events, and what facilities are available.
Let’s note for a minute what it is not: it is not a field guide to the plants and animals of each preserve. That’s a dream (and somebody’s master’s thesis?) yet to be realized. Also, this app has some functionality even if your device does not have a cellular connection, but to show your position superimposed on an aerial photograph of the preserve while walking the trails, you do need a cellular connection for data (most of our preserves have coverage).
But as I have found while monitoring conservation easements, there is nothing better than having a device showing where you are with respect to the trails and other features of the land. Older consumer GPS devices showed where you are, but not property boundaries, aerial photographs, or trails (this app does all of these). Professional-grade GPS machines may do all this but at a cost and size that don’t make sense except for professional-level data collection (and even in that, mobile devices have played a significant role in democratizing information technologies—think how citizen science has changed in the last five years).
Trust me, we thought long and hard about introducing a device that serves as an intermediary between you and your direct experience of nature. Personally I prefer my experiences to be first hand, without a smartphone between me and the world. But this is a tool, one that can be used and then turned off and put away. At the same time, it also makes access to the preserves easier for a greater number of people, so it has the capability of informing and sharing nature with more people who can come to appreciate the experiences.
And the information is easy to update quickly and inexpensively. If you look closely at the map above, you’ll see an addition we created to the red “Deep Woods” trail behind our visitor center that will not show up on our paper trail maps until their next reprinting, maybe next year.
I hope you give the app a try, and that you find it rewarding!