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Kim Wheeler Johnsen, director of marketing and membership for the Natural Land Institute, checks out a hike app on her smartphone Wednesday at Nygren Wetland Preserve in Rockton. Photo by Georgette Braun.

Tour Rockton’s Nygren Wetland Preserve through a smartphone app

October 18, 2013 at 06:48 PM

Rockford Register Star

ROCKTON β€” Smartphones and nature unite through a new app that takes users on a self-guided hike of 12 points of interest along a 2.5-mile groomed trail at Nygren Wetland Preserve.

β€œIt’s really a new way to experience the wetland,” said Kim Wheeler Johnsen. She is director of marketing and membership for the Natural Land Institute, a nonprofit land conservation group that owns and operates the 721-acre wildlife sanctuary at 3190 W. Rockton Road.

The 99-cent app for the Dianne Nora Nature Trail is part of the Prairie State Hike App unveiled Friday at a news conference. On Wednesday, Wheeler Johnsen demonstrated the features for the Register Star.

Those who download and use the app on their smartphones and tablets will learn about the plants, animals, birds, insects and bodies of water at the wetland. Users can choose to listen or read the text on their screens. Images can be moved by touching arrows.

When the GPS-supported app is open and operating properly and the user is walking near one of the signs at points of interest along the trail, the app will automatically start playing a voice recording about that specific point of interest.

The trail is open daily from 7 a.m. until the gate to the parking lot is locked about 30 minutes past sunset. During winter, the parking lot is closed, but access to the trail is still allowed for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. Admission is free.

The tour also covers the history of the geographic area, restoration and management work of the Natural Land Institute.

Wheeler Johnsen said the app aims to not only enhance the experience of visitors to the trail but to attract more young people accustomed to using their smartphones for all sorts of purposes. And it will heighten the awareness about the value of preserving natural land and wildlife habitats, as well as incorporating natural areas into tourism efforts, she said.

The app project was spearheaded by the Prairie State Conservation Coalition and created with support from foundations.

Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); @georgettebraun

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