NPS Launching Virtual Ranger Program in Ohio

Wants hikers to get off the grid by bringing it with them

Sep 9, 2014
Outside Magazine
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Cuyahoga Valley is Ohio's only National Park.    Betsy Weber/Flickr

The National Science Foundation awarded Kent State University (KSU) researchers a $952,000 grant to pioneer a free "virtual park ranger" app in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). The smartphone-based app sits at the center of a three-year citizen science project aiming to reinvent the park experience.

The as-yet-unnamed app—set for public release by September 2015—will give park visitors direct access to two grant-funded rangers ready to explain the 33,000-acre park’s history, geology, and ecology. While many park-oriented apps offer background information, maps, and trails, few offer real-time updates on park features. The app will also let visitors contribute to park management.

"Through citizen science, parks have been able to get assistance from the public in inventorying and monitoring park resources," Jennie Vasarhelyi, CVNP's chief of interpretation, education, and visitor services, told Outside. "We haven't determined specifics of how citizen science might occur with the KSU app [but] one possibility might be that visitors will be able to report sightings of species that we are tracking."

Researchers will also be able to gauge the park's educational value. The research team, led by educational psychologist Richard Ferdig, hopes to survey visitors about their park visits to see how much information they retain.

KSU won the grant with help from the National Park Service, with whom it entered into an educational partnership five years ago.