Roughing it goes high-tech with Parks Canada’s new GPS devices and mobile apps

Canada’s national parks are where Canadian families have gone for generations to get away from it all. The stress, the noise, the electronic gadgets; none of these are to be found in the peace and quiet of Canada’s parks.

Well, maybe that’s not true of the gadgets. Parks Canada is experimenting in several of our national parks with GPS receivers that provide facts and information to vacationers based on their location. They can learn things about the history of Canada’s First Nations peoples, settlers, flora and fauna — and even how to camp safely and effectively.

From the CBC:

In a boardroom in Hull, Que., Tamara Tarasoff of Parks Canada’s new media program offers a simulation of a person walking around Signal Hill, in St. John’s. The hiker is represented as a small yellow circle moving onscreen on the GPS device.

Suddenly, a bugle sounds and the device brings up a picture of a plant with the question, “Where did this come from?” and three multiple-choice answers.

Tarasoff reveals the correct answer: the plant was introduced to Signal Hill by soldiers in their mattress stuffing.

Parks Canada handed these GPS devices out to visitors as a pilot project at two sites — Signal Hill and Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia.

Tarasoff remembers one of the first groups to try it out.

“We thought perhaps it would be a group of younger people or teenagers or that kind of thing, but it was a group of seniors from Saskatchewan. They started to walk with the device along the trail and, as soon as the first audio prompt sounded, they giggled and they laughed and they thought it was the greatest thing,” she said.

In follow-up surveys, more than 85 per cent of visitors liked the devices, and said they learned something new, even if they had been going to the park for years.

In addition to the GPS devices, which will be loaned out to park visitors starting this summer, Parks Canada is working on a set of mobile apps to get Canadians ready for the great outdoors, even if they’re still in the big city.

The first app is focused on camp cooking including “historic cooking,” like the kind that would have been done at Canada’s fur trading forts.

As long as the app recommends food handling practices more advanced than the 18th Century, it should do fine.

The other app is one designed to give users the basics of camping; how to set up a tent, how to launch a canoe, et cetera. As Parks Canada explains, many Canadians, particularly new Canadians, might not have these skills, and it discourages them from going out into the great outdoors.

“We’ve got a lot of new Canadians. Canada continues to renew itself. We have a lot of urban Canadians,” explained Andrew Campbell, director general of external relations and visitors for Parks Canada. “So we’ve gone out and asked those groups, ‘What are some of the barriers? What are some of the limitations?’ “

Starting this summer, Parks Canada will teach basic camping and cooking skills person-to-person. But Campbell says it’s also important to use the technology found right in people’s homes.

“How can we give people that taste before they come, and how can we help them facilitate the visit in a way that really gives them the sort of experience they’re looking for?”

If only Parks Canada made an app that ordered delivery of beer and back bacon to your camp site; that would officially be the most Canadian app ever.