Thursday, September 13, 2012

From Interpretive to Interactive

A view of Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge. This will be
one location for an interpretive sign on the medial trail.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

I hope after my recent blog entry on technology and nature (for those of you who missed it), you are all feeling a bit more confident about the future of technology and our connection to the natural world. For one U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge this connection is about to reach a new level. Through a Connecting People with Nature grant, Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge, home to the endangered Columbian White-tailed Deer, is about to pioneer an all new interpretive media trail which will transform guests’ visits into interactive journeys. This past week, my supervisor Nancy and I took a trip west along the Columbia River to the refuge and learned a little more about this new innovation.

Reviewing one of the old signs, where a soon to be interactive media sign
will be placed.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
A New Era of Learning
Upon our arrival to the refuge, we met up with the masterminds behind the operation, Nancy Holman, Visitor Services Manager of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex and Blu Chaney, summer intern with the Student Conservation Association for a crash course overview on the media trail project. Still in the drafting stages, they explained that QR codes (barcode like images that can be scanned by smartphones to send users to specific links) would be included on interpretive signs in five locations around the refuge. A scan of each QR code with a capable device (like iPhones or Android phones) would send users online to varying virtual sections of the trail, allowing them to interact with photos, videos, links, or narrations from refuge workers and biologists. These supplemental media guides will allow users to learn about the refuge and its history, while gaining an overview of wildlife they could potentially spot through a vibrant and exciting angle. In addition, "Wanderer Packs" which include tools like binoculars and hard copies of the QR coded presentations are available for check-out from the refuge and nearby businesses for visitors to use! This evolution from a single standing interpretive sign to a more engaged interaction will open up new windows for education and provide an opportunity for visitors to achieve a refuge experience like never before.

A Sneak Peak
After learning about the interactive signs, we hit the trail to get a feel for the potential locations of the 5 signs. Each location offered a pristine view of the refuge, while each media “chapter” focused on a different aspect of the refuge from significance in the journeys of Lewis & Clark, importance of the Columbian White-tailed Deer, and a celebration of women in conservation through the life of Julia Butler Hansen.

A Columbian White-tailed Deer spotted on Tenashillahe Island!
Credit: Blu Chaney/USFWS
Hitting Tenasillahe Island
Later in the day, after lunch at a local pizza shop in the small town of Cathlamet, Washington, we met up with Refuge Manager, Joel David, for a boat trip along the Columbia River to Tenasillahe Island to visit the last potential media trail stop. This was, believe it or not, my first time actually on the Columbia. A number of Columbian White-tailed Deer are transferred to this island to allow them a more private and safe habitat. Joel, however, informed us that the deer have been known to make the swim to and from the island without human help! After a bit of wandering, a single deer finally peeked its head out of the brush to assess what we four humans were doing snooping around their island. It made its getaway well before we were able to get close, but it was a great sight to see nonetheless.

Departing by boat from Tenasillahe Island, along
the Columbia; where deer have been known to swim.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The First of Many
With our overwhelming dependence on technology these days, this media trail represents the perfect balance between tech and nature. Visitors can come to the refuge and use technology to learn much more than they would be able to on their own, tech-free. And to offer a similar experience to those who do not have the proper technology – the media trail will also be virtually accessible online for visitors to check out from home or public computers before or after visits to Julie Butler Hansen NWR! Though this media trail is still in the planning stages, I am positive this interactive and wonderful use of technology will soon be seen incorporated into National Wildlife Refuges across the nation! An anticipated completion date for the media trail is in January of 2013, so stay tuned for your chance to make a visit to the beautiful refuge, spot some Columbian White-tailed Deer and pioneer this exciting and unique use of technology and nature!


  1. wow...really nice wildlife. . .cool . .thanks a lot for showing it to me....keep it up . .love it..
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