Digital Ranger app for navigating national parks, forests; Southern Utah family’s mission fundraiser turns big business

Image courtesy of Digital Ranger

CEDAR CITY – Digital Ranger is a groundbreaking new mobile app that is changing the way Southern Utahns view and enjoy the outdoors. But it would never have become a reality without the creativity and hard work of one family.

Background

A collection of brilliant minds came together to form Digital Ranger, each bringing a unique skill set.

Image courtesy of Digital Ranger
Image courtesy of Digital Ranger

Derek Peterson is the app’s lead developer and GIS, or geographic information system, data specialist. Having long held an interest in technology, he started learning programming his senior year of high school and worked for a software company in the Salt Lake City area after graduating.

Andrew Martin is the data specialist. He manages the vast amounts of information that must be processed to build the app’s content.

Ron Martin creates the plant, wildlife and geology content for Digital Ranger. A botanist and associate professor of biology at Southern Utah University, he has traveled through Southern Utah’s outdoors for over a decade, amassing a remarkable collection of photos and observations.

Bruce Martin serves as business administrator. Using his entrepreneurial experience from previous successful ventures, he manages the team and keeps everything running smoothly.

Family plays an important role in the dynamics of this business team. Peterson, 21, and Andrew Martin, 18, are cousins and lifelong friends who the former said he always knew would “do something important together.” Ron Martin and Bruce Martin are Andrew Martin’s father and uncle, respectively.

The idea for Digital Ranger formed when Ron Martin learned that the cousins were trying to fund their missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A board member of the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, he knew that Bryce Canyon National Park was looking to create a park-specific mobile app and encouraged the young men to offer their tech skills.

Peterson and Andrew Martin put their heads together and came up with a basic idea, which began to grow during Startup Weekend Cedar City in March. After receiving a warm response from Bryce Canyon, they met with representatives from other national parks and forests in the area and pitched their product.

“Everyone seemed quite interested in what we were working on,” Peterson said. “We asked them what they wanted in the app and worked closely to create something that would help both them and the visitors.”

The app’s popularity has since exploded and Digital Ranger is rapidly earning recognition among both outdoor recreationists and those who simply want to make their visit to a national attraction a bit safer and easier. The young entrepreneurs will have to shift their focus, however, as they leave for their LDS missions on Oct. 16 (Bruce Martin will lead operations of Digital Ranger during their two-year absence.)

Not only did they accomplish their initial goal, but they have also laid the foundation for a serious business opportunity and successful future.

“As we began communicating with national park and forest representatives, we quickly became aware that this was going to be a big deal,” Peterson said. “What started out as a way to earn some money for missions has quickly become an opportunity to serve the community and tourists of Utah.”

About the app

The Digital Ranger application was officially released in August. Currently, it is only available via the App Store for the iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5), iPad and iPod Touch running Apple iOS 6.0 or later. An Android version will be released through Google Play within the coming month.

During the development process, the team focused on making Digital Ranger a “light” app, using minimal storage space (only 3.5 MB), memory and battery life. Additionally, it does not require an internet connection for most functions once installed, unlike many mobile apps.

It combines the functions of a smartphone and a GPS but can be used even if you don’t have cell service,” Peterson said. “We want people to be able to easily browse the app and put it to use when enjoying the outdoors.”

While many apps that help plan a trip to America’s national parks and forests already exist, Bruce Martin said Digital Ranger is the only one intended for on-location use. The team’s main goals in creating it are safety and accessibility.

The app is free to download and comes with a sample map and informational guide. Packages for each recreation area cost $1.99. Currently available are Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks and Dixie National Forest, with Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks and Fishlake National Forest slated for release within the next few weeks.

Each informational package is specifically built for a recreation area. Features include high-definition topographical and contour maps, “Around Me,” which identifies your current location and nearby points of interest, a comprehensive guide with photos to plant and wildlife species in the area, detailed information on park/forest facilities and amenities and maps, and information on off-highway vehicle trails. Using the latest data from the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, the app always provides accurate information.

Reaction and success

Despite only being on the market for a month, Digital Ranger has already met with considerable consumer success. It has been downloaded over 700 times – once netting 380 downloads in a single day – and received coverage from Utah media.

“People like it,” Peterson said. “We’ve got a great response.”

Image courtesy of Digital Ranger
Image courtesy of Digital Ranger

The app hasn’t been widely marketed yet, but Bruce Martin said he plans to launch a massive advertising push following the release of the Android version, which is expected to be very popular.

A study conducted in June by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that approximately 56 percent of all Americans own a smartphone. According to The Outdoor Foundation’s 2013 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, smartphones are the second most commonly used (only behind personal music players) device by visitors to recreation areas. Digital Ranger is on the cutting edge of the future of American recreation, guided not by compasses, maps or park rangers, but by technology conveniently available at the touch of a screen.

While still in the developmental process, Digital Ranger received support from Southern Utah’s national parks and forests. The regional office of the Forest Service contracted with them to build the official mobile apps of Dixie and Fishlake, with the possibility of including all of the area’s forests in the near future.

“We recognize that mobile apps are an effective medium for reaching forest visitors and distributing information to enhance the visitor experience,” said Mel Bolling, Fishlake National Forest public services staff officer. “The mobile app provides a readily available platform for access to forest information that will help visitors safely enjoy their public lands.”

The National Park Service recently contracted with Digital Ranger to expand the app’s availability to many more attractions throughout the country.

Peterson’s vision is to eventually include every park and forest in the entire United States. A lofty goal? Certainly, but very much attainable with the know-how and motivation of this young entrepreneur and his dedicated team.

“As local young adults, we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to provide a service that will so greatly improve the experience of visitors to our local parks and forests. As citizens of Utah, we love spending time in our ‘backyard’ and want to make it as accessible to others as possible,” Peterson said. “We think our product is truly groundbreaking and we are grateful for the area and community we live in which has made this possible.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Digital Ranger
Image courtesy of Digital Ranger

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