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App could help visitors enjoy Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Rick Ferdig is a fan of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He was visiting one day with his kids, when one of those great park moments happened.

"In flew this amazing owl," he said. "And of course my kids asked, ‘Well, what kind of owl was that? Why is it here? Is it known to be in this part of the park?’"

Ferdig couldn’t answer their questions. But maybe next time he’ll be able to. Ferdig’s a professor in the college of education at Kent State University, and he’s leading a team developing an app he thinks of as a ‘virtual park ranger.’

The GPS-based program will offer visitors prompts based on their location in the park – like a printed nature guide, but more tailored and efficient.

The app will also draw on visitors for information. Park staff will get data on patrons’ habits. And users will be able to report sightings of wildlife or invasive species, which can help biologists get a better picture of the park’s ecological health.

"We’re kind of adding, you know, a couple million pairs of eyes to the kind of work that a handful of people might have the responsibility of doing," Ferdig said.

Ferdig’s group of researchers received about $1 million from the National Science Foundation for the project. He said a beta version should be available in six to eight months, with a full version ready within a year.