Scout Creates QR Codes for Signs on Nature Park's Trail Network
LAKELAND, Dec 03, 2012 (The Ledger - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
If you have a smartphone, you can learn a lot more about the ecology of Circle B Bar Reserve while you hike, thanks to Eagle Scout candidate Chris Baker.
Baker has combined technology and environmental education to improve visitor experiences along the trail system at Circle B Bar Reserve.
Trail users will now see a series of QR codes on signs located strategically along the nature park's trail network. They offer links to videos that give additional information on Circle B's natural and cultural resources.
QR codes -- QR stands for quick response -- are those black-and-white square patterns printed on all kinds of products these days. They work by using one of several free apps that can be downloaded to smartphones.
"I came out looking for an Eagle Scout project and talked to Ms. (Tabitha) Biehl, and she said she was interested in QR codes for the trails," Baker said.
Biehl is environmental lands stewardship coordinator for the Polk County Environmental Lands Program.
Baker, 17, a member of Boy Scout Troop 123 in Winter Haven, began the project with a little research.
He visited J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, which added this feature to its trail system last year, to get some ideas on how QR codes could be used.
The popular southwest Florida refuge appears to be one of the first places in the state to offer this feature for visitors.
Interest in using this relatively cheap form of technology has been growing in Florida over the past year. In addition to Ding Darling, QR codes have been installed along nature trails on the University of Florida campus.
The approach is being used by park managers all over the United States because it supplies visitors with information instantly, often saving them the trouble of searching for a park ranger to get answers for common questions.
"This provides a lot more information than we can put on a sign," said Biehl.
She said she was looking for a way to provide more in-depth information to Circle B's diverse visitors, who come from all over the world to view and photograph wildlife.
Baker, the son of Dr. Robin and Kathy Baker of Winter Haven and a junior at All Saints' Academy, said he met with representatives of Polk County Television, whose staff shot the videos for each of nine stations. He uploaded the videos to YouTube and linked them to the QR codes at Circle B.
Baker, whose merit badges include one for woodworking, constructed the frames for the QR code displays along the trail and designed the graphics for the large sign at the trail entrance.
"I designed them to match the other signs along the trail," he said.
Baker described the videos as "like having your own naturalist giving you a tour."
The stations include introductions about the trails then brief talks by local experts on cypress trees, traditional Florida cow camps, bald eagles, migratory birds, herons and egrets, marsh ecosystems, alligators and butterflies.
The video on butterflies, for instance, presented by retired Polk State College instructor Ben Binschadler, discusses the variety of butterflies that can be seen locally, describes their life cycle and gives advice on the best time to look for them.
Baker is still working on his Eagle Scout award, which requires a report on his project.
There's some pressure on him because seven other members of his family have earned Eagle Scout awards, said his father, who is one of those seven.
[ Tom Palmer can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7535. Read more views on the environment at http://environment.blogs.theledger.com/. Follow on Twitter @LedgerTom. ]
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