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Nature Center Goes Digital with a Mobile Map and Guide

Cincinatti Nature phone

Image via Cincinnati Nature Center

Nature Center Goes Digital
with a Mobile Map and Guide

One of the top 10 nature centers in the country, Cincinnati Nature Center comprises more than 1,600 acres of irreplaceable natural and agricultural land. With 20 miles of trails through forests, fields, streams and ponds, this beautiful outdoor venue hosts around 300,000 visitors per year. 

Cincinnati Nature’s Digital Learning Manager, Maria Jenkins and Remote Sensing and Equipment Coordinator, Josh Matheson, along with Guide by Cell’s Senior Account Executive Christa Mallard recently discussed their mobile smartphone tour and GPS Mapper at the Association of Nature Center Administrators’ (ANCA) virtual conference.

Here are some highlights from their discussion:

What is GPS Mapper?
Guide by Cell’s GPS Mapper is a mobile wayfinding tool based on GPS technology. We take a scaled map from a bird's eye view and use it as an overlay in Google Maps. Placement is based on latitude and longitude. The GPS Mapper shows a visitor's location in real time through a blue blinking dot and provides an interactive way for your visitors to navigate your trails or grounds. Your organization can highlight points of interest, such as trails, public buildings, or restrooms. You can also create expandable pushpins that have information with text, images, embedded URL links—it's really limitless.
-Christa Mallard

Enhancing the Visitor Experience
By creating our own GPS map, we can make it a lot more accurate because it's not crowdsourced. We control the contents of it. And then there’s added member gratification. People have been asking for this for a while, so this mobile map is really meeting their needs and expectations. It's contact free, and during COVID, that's a very important thing. Ultimately, the primary reason in creating our GPS Mapper was to enhance the visitor experience on site.
-Maria Jenkins

Going Green
GPS Mapper is part of our effort to go green. We were printing a lot of paper maps every year. We used to give these maps out at kiosks, at our front desk and at our entry points. We really wanted to reduce the amount of paper and the amount of printing and this helps us do that.
-Maria Jenkins

Cost Assessment and Savings
We were spending $67,000 on paper maps a year at Cincinnati Nature Center because we have almost 300,000 visitors a year. The paper maps were flying off the shelves all the time. So switching to GPS Mapper was a green initiative, but it was also a huge cost savings for us.
-Maria Jenkins 

Why did Cincinnati Nature Center choose Guide by Cell?
We chose Guide by Cell for a lot of the reasons. First, you only need cell service. You don't need WiFi. There are no downloads required. That makes it accessible for people who don’t have space on their phone, or won’t download an app. The blue dot technology for the GPS map was really important for us so that people could find their way on our trails. We really liked the idea of having self-controlled content and a lot of flexibility. Plus, our map doesn't have to be a static thing. We can change it, update it, and use our own branding. And in comparison to some other vendors that we explored, it was more cost efficient. 
-Maria Jenkins

Using QR Codes to Access the Map
The QR code is by far the most popular way to access the app. During testing, we discovered it was helpful when people wanted to share the guide with their friends. They could hold up a photo of the QR code on their phone and their friends could scan.
-Maria Jenkins

Launching the GPS Mapper to the Public
We launched our new map in many ways. We had a standalone email to members. We did a lot of signage on site. We had an awesome National Trails Day launch event where we invited different vendors which created a festival atmosphere. We had a booth staffed by volunteers who explained the guide and helped with troubleshooting. We also had a feedback contest where we invited people to put their feedback into the guide. We randomly chose a winner from that feedback and gave them new hiking sticks. The feedback was super helpful for us.
-Maria Jenkins

Taking Ownership of Your Content
Some third party maps or apps contain information that is crowdsourced. It's not verified. So there are some challenges with that. You're going to have trail discrepancies, inaccuracies, or the information could be outdated and limited. In fact, a recent NPR story shared a situation where a crowdsourced trail map led hikers into physical danger. So it's really important to take ownership of your content. 
-Christa Mallard


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Nature Center Goes Digital with a Mobile Map and Guide