Technology meets nature with newly developed app
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. —Dr. J. Elmo Rawling, associate professor of geography and geology at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and Dr. Rex J. Rowley, assistant professor of geography at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., in partnership with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, recently released “GeoHike: Devil’s Lake,” a free, educational computer application that will help users navigate through the geology of Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis. Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest state park in Wisconsin, located in the Baraboo Range in eastern Sauk County.
“GeoHike: Devil’s Lake,” was created as a digitized, virtual tour guide of the park’s geology. The application includes a map of the park with photos and explanations of sites of geological interest and descriptions of the area’s geology. While hiking, photos and text from the application will explain the area’s features, providing information that will enrich visitors’ understanding and enjoyment of the park.
Rawling helped write and edit the text for the application and Rowley provided spatial data for the park’s trails as well as the photographs. Rawling and Rowley also supervised Ben Gultch, a geography student at UW-Platteville at the time, who used skills he learned in courses at UW-Platteville to help Rawling and Rowley.
Each academic year, Rawling and the geography faculty and staff take about 600 students to Devil’s Lake as an educational field experience in the Geography 1040: Planet Earth class. On this excursion, students are sent out in groups to collect data about the geography of the land as well as the weather and climate. Each year, however, there are students who cannot participate due to injuries or disabilities. The initial idea for the application came from a UW-Platteville Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement funded project that would provide a virtual fieldtrip for those students. Further funding from UW-Extension provided the support necessary to convert that to an application.
The new application will benefit park visitors as they travel through the terrain of Devil’s Lake. The application is able to track visitors’ location and alert them when there is a point of interest.
“Sometimes, the points of interest are very obvious and have been park lookouts for years,” said Rawling. “Others, however, are more subtle features that visitors would likely pass by without an expert in the field to interpret the landscape. As the number of visitors to parks increases, Department of Natural Resources staff is increasingly unable to provide this type of expertise to everyone.”
“The instant access to geologic information provided with smartphone technology is remarkable,” added Rawling. “Applications like these help us achieve the Wisconsin Idea, which is to communicate with the community and citizens of Wisconsin.”
“GeoHike: Devil’s Lake” is currently compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and is available at the Apple Store.