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A screen capture of the new guided hike app available for smart photos. Photo by Chris Young.

New guided hike app to feature Illinois sites

June 08, 2013 at 11:54 AM

The State Journal-Register

The first small steps have been in offering an Illinois-based guided hike application for smart phones.

The Prairie State Hike App is available for download at the iTunes store for 99 cents.

It is published by the Prairie State Conservation Coalition, an organization of land trusts including the Friends of the Sangamon Valley in Springfield, Openlands in Chicago, The Land Conservancy for McHenry County, The Nature Conservancy in Illinois and the Natural Lands Institute in Rockford.

The first hike available – the Beta hike, if you will – covers the Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary, 9560 Withers Road outside Loami just southwest of Springfield.

More hikes will be coming online in the coming weeks and months and will be available as updates. Users will not have to buy a new app.

“You will have access to as many trails as you want,” said Vern LaGesse, executive director of the Friends of the Sangamon Valley. “You will be able to select the ones you want to download.”

LaGesse said the goal is to have upward of 100 hikes, because many larger sites have multiple trail systems.

Coming soon is the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie managed by the U.S. Forest Service in Will County.

The Natural Lands Institute is working on a hike for its Nygren Wetland Preserve.

LaGesse said the app idea grew out of discussions with other land trusts on how best to use emerging technology.

Brook McDonald, president and CEO of The Conservation Foundation in Naperville, said new technology will help conservation groups connect with a new audience.

“Anytime you can engage people where they are at, it is a good thing,” McDonald said.

He said his organization, headquartered on a 60-acre organic vegetable farm, is modeling practices of sustainable, farm-to-table agriculture.

McDonald also is the current president of the Prairie State Conservation Coalition.

“It’s not a park, but people do come here during business hours because they are curious,” McDonald said. “They say, ‘I drive by all the time, but I’ve never stopped to see what you do here.’”

In the past, visitors could pick up a brochure. Soon they will be able to download the app and take a self-guided, interactive tour of the farm.

How it works

Visitors to the Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary in Sangamon County will be guided to various points of interest on the property.

“There is an icon at the upper right that takes you to a map,” LaGesse said. “The hiker is the blue dot.”

Click on the red pin closest to you and hear or read a brief description of the site history, natural features or other site information.

Users can scroll through pictures, too.

LaGesse said technology helps nonprofits serve visitors even when staff members are not able to be present.

“A teacher can take a tablet out and have the same experience,” he said.

LaGesse said having the first hike out and working gives groups something to show potential sponsors and other groups that might want to become involved.

“We’ll be coming out with more custom aspects as we go along,” he said. “For example you will soon be able to upload a picture to a Facebook page for that particular trail.”

For those interested in visiting the Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary, hours are dawn to dusk.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him at

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