Environment
7:53 pm
Tue March 19, 2013

Want to explore state parks? There’s an app for that

Washington’s state park system boasts everything from coastal campgrounds to wooded hiking trails and historical buildings. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the choices, you might find help in the palm of your hand.

Just in time for Washington State Parks' centennial, the state has unveiled a new smartphone app that serves as an on-the-go interactive guide.

The app, called Pocket Ranger, is a complete catalog of all the parks system has to offer. It also uses GPS technology to help you find your way.

“It’s just a great way to market the parks system," says public affairs director Virginia Painter. "For people to be able to have in their hand all the information they need so that on the spot they can plan a trip, or find out about an event in a park, learn about our history.”

The app is the work of a New York developer that uses a similar template for 30 or so other parks systems around the country. It’s paid for by advertising, so it’s free to users and didn’t cost the state any money, either.

The app links up with various tools and platforms, from Facebook and Twitter feeds to online calendars you might be using. It also offers real-time weather and safety alerts, and links to online reservations systems. So, once you’ve used the app to find a park and followed the maps it generates to get you there, you can use it to share photos of your favorite hikes — and their exact coordinates — with your friends.

“To have all that at your fingertips I think will lure more people out to the parks and make more people interested,” Painter says.

Attracting more visitors is crucial; state subsidies for the parks have been slashed and they’re supposed to become self-supporting on income from user fees.

The app’s launch is part of the festivities marking the park system’s centennial. Special events are taking place all year, including some special geocaching events using the new app planned for this summer.

The Legislature created the State Board of Park Commissioners 100 years ago, on March 19, 1913. Larrabee State Park near Bellingham was the first official state park. Now the system includes 117 parks and other properties, totaling 110,000 acres and attracting about 40 million visits a year.