How do you provide interpretation for an area that is over 240,000 square miles, covering four different states and is the longest refuge in the continental United States? This is the problem that faced Cindy Samples, Visitor Services Manager of the Upper Mississippi River and National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Cindy began her immense project back in 2007. In search of an affordable and efficient way of updating the outdated permanent stanchions along the auto route of the refuge, Cindy met Dave Asheim of Guide by Cell at the annual National Association of Interpretation Conference, where he was speaking.
Since then, Cindy has organized and created a fun, factual and informative cell phone tour. Visitors look for blue signs posted along popular highways. The tour provides visitors with a description of what they are seeing and other information, such as details about seasonal migrating birds.
“It’s just so easy,” explains Cindy when asked what she likes about the technology. Though the application of the technology was simple, the effort that went into creating content for the tour was not. Cindy became a cell phone tour ambassador of sorts, working with the many city and state organizations within the refuge to make sure they were included in the tour. Every member of her staff participated, including the refuge biologists, park rangers, even the maintenance staff and administrative clerks.
The cell phone tour is like having a personal tour of the refuge. The audio content is also accessible as a podcast at the Refuge website
. Cindy also shares the GPS location of the audio stops, so visitors can test their navigational skills.
“The tour is in its infancy,” clarified Cindy, “We are using the comments we receive on the tour from visitors to create new content.” Cindy plans to keep updating the tour to include more information, and is thinking of offering a companion tour in Hmong, the language spoken by the Hmong people of Southeast Asia.
“Since the Vietnam era there has been a growing Hmong population in the area. We think it is important to reach out to this community. ”
Now that the snow has melted, visitors once again have access to the refuge and the cell phone tour. You can listen to the tour by dialing (608) 669-9059 and entering 1, followed by the # key to hear from Cindy.