Colorado Parks &Wildlife turning to an augmented reality app to get more kids hiking

Colorado Parks &Wildlife turning to an augmented reality app to get more kids hiking

Next time you’re in one of Colorado’s state parks, you and your mini-me may be guided on an interactive “mission” by Tyson the Bison, Agent Red-tailed Hawk or any of a number of other virtual “wildlife agents.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has developed augmented reality adventures for 10 state parks using the educational mobile gaming platform Agents of Discovery. The goal is to get kids outside, get them moving and provide opportunities for them to learn about their environment.

Each mission asks users to complete a variety of interactive tasks designed to engage them with their surroundings. Users download the free Agents of Discovery app to their smartphone and select a mission at a participating park: Barr Lake, Chatfield, Cherry Creek, Cheyenne Mountain, Eleven Mile, Ridgway, St. Vrain, Staunton, Steamboat Lake or Trinidad Lake.

The app is free from the iOS App or Google Play stores, and once you’ve downloaded the mission, you can venture out without the need for WiFi or the internet. When users open the app, a satellite map appears with various markers on it. Using your phone’s GPS, you will navigate toward the markers on the map. When you arrive at the marker, tap it to reveal the challenge. Some require a photo, some are fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice questions based on your surroundings. Some missions even come with prizes, usually picked up at the park’s visitor center. The app also keeps track of things like how many of the challenges you found, how long you spent looking and the estimated distance you walked.

Some may see this as just another example of technology run amok. Isn’t part of the appeal of parks that we’re able to disconnect while enjoying nature? Even still, with the prevalence of smartphones — and Colorado’s Insta-worthy landscapes — if you’re in a state park with your kid, you may already have your phone out.

“Instead of fighting with them to keep it in their pockets, why not let them use it to discover interesting things about the park?” Michelle Seubert, Barr Lake State Park manager, said in a recent press release.

Mary McCormac, CPW’s statewide interpretation and wildlife viewing coordinator, sees the app as an education tool rather than a distraction.

“They can play games and get info, and it’s a fun way to integrate technology into outdoor learning,” she said.

Since the app is easily updated, park managers can also use it to communicate with visitors in a way that static signage can’t — whether it’s a seasonal closure in the park or conditions on the ground visitors should be aware of.

I took the app out for a spin, trying my skill on the missions at Cherry Creek and Barr Lake State Parks. It’s best to download the app to your phone and create an account while you’re still at home. The app seems to work better when you’re logged in, plus it accumulates points for the challenges you complete.#newsletter_ad {float: right;width: 40%;padding: 0.5em;border-left: 2px solid #EDB207;margin-bottom: .2em;margin-left: .5em;}@media (max-width:416px){#newsletter_ad {width:100%;}

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When you open the app, you will see a list of missions. The default is to sort by distance from wherever you are. If you change it to list in alpha order, it will include missions from everywhere, and there are missions all over North America.

Even in our area, there are many more than just the 10 CPW missions. Not all missions have the park name in them, for example, the Barr Lake mission is called Neidrach Trail Adventure. Find the mission for the state park you’re visiting and, again, tap it to download before you leave the house.

Before heading out, make sure your phone has a full charge — the app zapped my battery quickly.

Keeping these tips in mind, having a “mission” to accomplish may be just the nudge you and your kiddos need to get out, interact with nature and learn a little about Colorado. Many of the missions interweave interesting local history. Challenges may change with the seasons, and some parks may have limited access in winter. Be sure to visit the CPW page for each individual park to learn about any closures before you go.

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