Before You Go - April 2012
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Digital Tour Guide
Teen's Innovative Idea Helps Visitors Find Info

By Deborah L. Vence


A day out to the Los Peńasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego inland North County prompted Boy Scout Yash Huilgol to come up with an idea that would help visitors locate detailed information about the canyon and its trails. Huilgol had realized that specific information about the canyon was difficult to find, especially for new visitors. The only main tool available was a trail map that lacked detailed trail or site information.

So, to improve the system, Huilgol wanted to use technology to help enhance the existing map by providing a specialized and easy-to-access Web page for visitors. Online reference points in the physical world from which to guide visitors would be needed. Subsequently, Huilgol decided to refurbish the existing mile markers and trail crossing signs in the canyon preserve.

Then, for the electronic section of the project, Huilgol put together a digital packet that was comprised of trail data for hikers, bikers, equestrians and other visitors to the canyon, three interactive trail maps and Quick Response (QR) codes, which each corresponded to separate mile markers in the preserve. He also explored the idea of QR codes by creating a Web site for his Eagle Project (www.pqcanyon.com) that made it possible for canyon visitors, as well as folks at home, to access the information that was gathered in his digital packet.

"The project has been well-received in the community, and beyond, stating that it is a great way to access on-the-spot information when exploring the preserve," said Gregory Chapelle, Scoutmaster for Troop 667 in Rancho Peńasquitos, Calif.

Chapelle explained that the new technology works by scanning a QR code at the trailhead kiosks to access an interactive map that allows people to view all of the creek crossings and mile markers, with information pertaining to each location. (QR codes are square "barcodes" that are used to quickly link a mobile device to large amounts of data, usually a Web page on the Internet.)

"As opposed to a standard map, this allows a person to view the map inside the canyon and get information instantly," Chapelle explained. "Soon, these QR codes will also be placed inside the preserve, at each of the mile markers, and other significant/unique locations, allowing visitors to use their smartphones and readers to quickly access all the relative information, including interesting points of importance, as well as danger areas (Poison Oak, etc.) and relevant distances to other points in the preserve, including trailheads."

Also, the codes can be used as an estimate to track the busiest locations (trailheads, mile markers, other points of interest) based on how many people scan each of the QR codes.

"This can be used by the rangers as a resource," he said.

Chapelle also noted that one of the groups has asked about how QR codes can be accessed for visitors who are not familiar with the new technologies.

"After that comment, a brief 'how-to' has been placed with each of the codes, to allow more people to view the pages provided. If one does not have a QR reader, a link to www.pqcanyon.com has also been given," he said. "Furthermore, as this is a site that can also be viewed on a computer, people are also given the opportunity to explore what the canyon has to offer, and can allow them to plan their adventure. The site's hits, or views, have spiked up significantly over the last two months as more and more people are seeing the QR code on the kiosks and are hearing about the project."

Moreover, Huilgol created a virtual tour of the Adobe Ranch House, so that visitors can preview the attractions. The tour includes six out of the many points of interest in the building. In addition, Huilgol put together a Virtual Trail Guide that includes numerous ways in which to access relevant trail information. The guide, which is in plain text format and can be accessed by many mobile devices (smartphones, iPods, iPads), is customized individually for each mile marker—with distances from each of the mile markers, creek crossings and trailheads.

"We have been overwhelmed by how enthusiastic people are in embracing this new use for QR codes," Chapelle said. "I think people see it as a new infrastructure for the outdoor experience that can be used to incorporate numerous uses, such as usage statistics, emergency management and visitor information, to name a few. Additional uses, no doubt, are expected to be found as the QR codes at trails and trailheads become more pervasive in parks around the region and country."

Huilgol has presented the project to the County of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, and various community groups, including the local town council and neighboring communities.

"The innovation behind the QR code concept is a great example of where mobile technology is going, and we are proud at Los Peńasquitos Canyon Preserve to have been a part of Yash's great project. We couldn't be happier with his accomplishments," stated San Diego County Parks and Recreation Supervising Ranger Paul Kucharczyk in a press release about the Boy Scout Eagle project.