NORMAL — Maps at major trail intersections at Starved Rock State Park have convenient “You Are Here” marks on them.
Some time next year, you might be able to look at your smartphone not only to find out where you are but also to learn about the history, geology, plants or animals at a particular spot.
Students at Illinois State University are working on smartphone applications to provide that information.
The work began last year for Android devices and is continuing for IOS devices such as iPhones and iPads, according to Sarah Walczynski, director of training and advanced projects in the College of Arts and Sciences Information Technology.
“Just the ability for people to know where they’re at if someone breaks an ankle or something is useful,” Walczynski said. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m by a big rock by the tree,’ they can say, ‘Here are my GPS coordinates.’”
She hopes the project will be far enough along to make the app available to the public next year.
Still in the early development state are special notes that would give up-to-date information on important matters such as trails or parking lots closed because of hunting or flooding.
Cory Starr of Bloomington, who worked on the project during his senior year at ISU and has continued to offer assistance, thinks the app could lead some young people to take a greater interest in details about the park.
“Education is a lot cooler when it comes from your phone,” he said.
He sees the project as being more than a map and more like “a trail guide experience.”
Matt Getzelman of Byron, who also worked on the project as a senior, said, “You can put a lot more in the app than you could ever fit on a printed map.”
Walcynski has spoken about the project with the park’s superintendent, Mike McConnaughhay, and he is supportive of the project.
Not only will it provide park visitors with information from the park, it could reduce expenses for printing paper maps, she said.
“When a family of five walks up and each person picks up a map, that gets costly,” Walcynski said. “It’s a wonderful idea for a state university to collaborate with another state entity in these tough economic times.”
In addition to helping the park, the map app project is giving students “real world” experience in application design and trouble-shooting, Starr said.
Victor DeGrecci, who came to ISU from Brazil to study computer science, said, “I can take what I’ve learned here back to Brazil to teach new people this in my own university.”
Even after the app goes public, the work won’t end.