Mobile Apps That Help You Fall in Love with the Outdoors

Technology sometimes gives us opportunities to connect with nature in brand new ways. As Ben Klasky writes in the Huffington Post, telescopes, microscopes and binoculars have allowed us to more fully appreciate all aspects of the great outdoors. Could mobile technology and apps provide us with the same experience? Whether you like to bird watch, study clouds, identify animal tracks or alert park rangers to invasive species, there is an app for that.

“There is a reasonable expectation that people are going to bring their mobile devices with them wherever they go,” said Danielle Brigida, a naturalist and social media manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who uses social media to connect people to the outdoors. “Apps and mobile sites can allow people to find different ways to interact with and understand nature.”

Businesses, universities and developers are working to produce apps that focus on the outdoors and wilderness across the country, and around the world.

“More and more naturalists are using mobile apps as a reference for species during excursions in the field and I’ve seen an impressive growth in the number of apps offered over the past few years,” said Brigida. “Your mobile device now serves as a camera, field guide, journal and GPS all in one.”

Nature buff Brigida identifies several apps that could help enhance your next hike or visit to a national park.

Nature Nerd

· Oh Ranger! ParkFinder App – This app searches parks and activities nearest you and points you to the closest places to connect with nature.

· Every Trail – An app that allows you to share and map your own trips, connect with other travelers and review trails you have completed.

· EthnoApp Developed by a team of students at Michigan Tech, the app connects average citizens with scientists to help acquire valuable environmental information across the world.

Watching for Wildlife

· Merlin Bird ID – Great for novice bird watchers to narrow down species of birds by location, color, shape and other indicating factors.

· MyNature Tracks – Helps identify animal tracks or scat, which can come in handy when you’re exploring the great outdoors. This app also has a tree guide and park-specific features.

· Leaf Snap – A joint project by Columbia University, University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution helps identify plants with a photo. The app has recognition software for trees–all you need is a shot of a leaf against a white background and this application should be able to help you.

· Wild About Whales – Whale watchers can track whale sightings, record their own and help others via Twitter or Facebook. This app also helps identify species, shares tips for spotting whales and provides information on local tours.

Citizen Science

· Bugwood Apps Download the app for your region and help inform officials about where invasive species are located.

· Project NOAH – Backed by National Geographic, this app is for nature enthusiasts who like to explore and document wildlife. NOAH is an acronym for “networked organisms and habitats” and can help labs, environmental groups and various organizations gather important data for research projects.

· Marine Debris Tracker – A joint effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Division and the University of Georgia’s Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. This app can be used to find and log marine debris items on beaches or in the water.

· INaturalist – Enables users to log animals and plants seen while outdoors and document where you were and what you observed.

Field Guides

· Cloud Identification – This app help users identify different genera, species and varieties of clouds.

· StarWalk – Allows you to view the entire night sky with a built-in digital compass, and identifies stars, planets, constellations and other deep-sky objects.

Klasky and Brigida feel there is no real downside to incorporating mobile technology into the outdoors. In fact, Klasky is working to help build a Nature Passport app that will motivate kids and families to spend time in the wild.

“Mobile apps can give you greater context to what you’re seeing while you’re exploring, and that knowledge can alleviate fears and help you fall in love with the outdoors,” said Brigida. “Albert Einstein once said, ‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better,’ – even more so with the help of an app.”

Data usage applies for app download and use.

Meagan Dorsch is a public relations manager with Verizon Wireless. Follow her on Twitter at: @VZWMeagan.