By LeRae Haynes –

An innovative blend of nature and technology has arrived in the form of an app on your phone, and it is here because of the hard work and vision of Scout Island nature educator Sue Hemphill and Suzanne Cochrane, recreation programmer for the City of Williams Lake.

Garrett Fischer tries out the Agents of Discovery nature app at River Valley Trail. Photo: Suzanne Cochrane

“The idea behind bringing Agents of Discovery here is to get people outside enjoying nature, learning as they go, throwing in the element of technology that enhances the experience,” Cochrane explained.

The Agents of Discovery mobile app game is downloaded free from the App Store or Google Play, and then played at participating locations where missions have been set up. For both local missions, one at River Valley Trail and one at Scout Island, there are approximately 15 fun challenges.

The challenges are puzzles or questions about the area where you’re playing the game. “You listen to a sound and match it to the right bird, for example,” Cochrane continued.

“You might get to collect some garbage, and decide whether it goes to recycling, garbage or compost. Sometimes you fill in the blanks. The puzzles might have to do with ecosystems, trees, water, bushes, or bird habitat.”

City Recreation and Scout Island partnered to set up missions for the project at Scout Island, and Cochrane programmed the one for River Valley Trail with the help of some notes from Hemphill, and information from Stepping Into Nature, a book by Odell Steen and Anna Roberts.

“Discovery Agents is a Canadian-developed company,” Cochrane noted. “It’s been used a lot at places like the Edmonton and Calgary zoos and Edmonton Science World. It’s a geo sensing locator for your GPS and is very popular in US recreation areas. This is where kids are, and this is a way to reach them.”

Hemphill said when you get to Scout Island you look at the first map and it will show you where all the challenges are.

“There are some on each trail here,” she explained. “You choose the trail you want to do and put your phone away. You want to make sure you look around you: you might see something interesting while you wait for your phone to buzz in your pocket. When it does, there will be a challenge related to the exact spot where you’re standing.”

“When you stop and take out your buzzing phone for a challenge, you get pre-challenge information first, then the challenge, and some follow up information afterwards.”

The game is informative, interesting, fun, and local, and the questions are aimed at intermediate aged students and older.

It’s the same as putting up information signs all over the place, said Hemphill. “Only this way, we don’t clutter up the trails with a lot of signs and take on a big expense. We can also change up the challenges to match the season.”

Download the app on your phone, and then download the two games: one for Scout Island and one for the River Valley Trail.

This is a bridge between nature and technology. Hemphill said she certainly had reservations about it—wanting people to get ‘off screen’ and into nature.

“I recognized, though, that people are going to be on screens anyway, and tried to set this up so that they put the phones away between challenges, and really look at what’s around them. You have to be open minded,” she continued.

She said this doesn’t replace getting to go for a walk with a real naturalist, by any means. “That’s the best thing in the world. Have you ever gone for a walk with Anna Roberts? We went mountain climbing in Chile once, looking at plants when she was in her 70s. I’m a plant nut, but she sees everything,” said Hemphill.

“At one point we were walking over a bit of water, and she said, ‘Look: those ants are rafting across the water!’ And sure enough, they had little pieces of wood and were riding on them across the water.

“That’s how I try to train kids’ eyes and ears—so they notice things. I’m going along with this to try and pull things in that direction.”

Once you complete one of the two games, you come to the Nature House at Scout Island or the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Centre, show that you’ve completed it on your phone, and your name is entered in a draw for a free swim pass. Feedback from participants is warmly welcomed. For more information phone Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex at (250) 398-7665.

LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.


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