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Apps in Parks: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

10 Aug, 2016

By: Michael Popke
Intended to Enhance the Visitor Experience, these Could Damage the Ability of Facilities to Host Tourism and Sports Events

An increasing number of smartphone apps approved by the National Park Service — from tours guided by Google Maps to plants labeled with QR codes — are designed to enhance the visitor experience.

Among the coolest advances? Webcams that capture the comings and goings of bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and puffin behavior at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge off the coast of Maine.

But might those and similar apps be wreaking havoc on visitors not as obsessed with technology as some of their fellow park-goers? According to TravelWeekly.com, “mobile apps designed to share information on interesting animal sightings in national parks could be the latest threat to wildlife.”

Or to recreation-minded visitors hiking the trails – or to planners of sports events involving trail running.

Hapiloe Sello, managing executive for tourism development and marketing for South African National Parks (SANParks), told the website that increased use of webcams and other apps has increased reckless behavior in parks in South Africa, including speeding, congestion and animal roadkill caused by visitors making a beeline toward reported sightings.

Although there don’t appear to be widespread reports of such incidents occurring in U.S. national parks yet, the NPS — which will celebrate its 100th birthday on Aug. 25 — might want to take note of what SANParks officials are doing.

According to TravelWeekly.com, Sello says SANParks discourages the use of mobile apps and is exploring ways to legally ban them. The same article quotes Nadav Ossendryver, founder of LatestSightings.com, a website that encourage users to post their wildlife footage online: “We deeply respect what SANParks does for wildlife and for South Africa,” Ossendryver says. “The tremendous benefits of sightings apps and social media to wildlife and tourism should not be discounted. If, in fact, there are unforeseen consequences of their use, we would like to work with SANParks to solve the problem.”

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