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    Virtual Park Ranger App to Launch in September 2015

    The app will allow park visitors to work as citizen scientists.

    Researchers at Kent State University have received a $952,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in order to build a free mobile app that will work as a “virtual park ranger” for Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The app will let park visitors act as citizen scientists by allowing them to submit information, as well as gain knowledge about the 33,000-acre park’s history and habitats from two park rangers.

    Scheduled for a September 2015 launch, the project will run for three years and will go beyond what’s offered by similar apps in the market by providing real-time updates of the park. The project is being led by Richard Ferdig, a professor at the university’s Research Center for Education Technology. The app will be reliant upon the built-in GPS on visitors’ smartphones, but will not require a wireless connection.

    “When you go to the park it is such an amazing creation but wouldn’t it be nice to have a park ranger there by your side?” he told The Plain Dealer. “It gets you out there and gives you the tools to enhance the experience.”

    The grant that will fund the creation of the app, which is currently unnamed, was won by KSU with assistance from the National Park Service, which signed an educational partnership with the university five years ago.

    “Through citizen science, parks have been able to get assistance from the public in inventorying and monitoring park resources,” Jennie Vasarhelyi, the park’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.”

    Image by Tim Newman/iStock

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