Dixie State students help develop ParksPass app for state parks visitors

File photo: Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Pixabay, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University students collaborated with Southern Utah University and the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation to develop ParksPass, an app that will be available in the coming weeks for adventure-seeking Utahns at state parks. 

L-R: Rebekah Snow, Cade Gardner and Sierra Sahleen, all Dixie State University student hires who helped develop and design the ParksPass app, visit Snow Canyon State Park to present the app to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Jan. 1, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Sierra Sahleen, St. George News.

On Jan. 1, Gov. Spencer Cox met with the app developers at Snow Canyon State Park and became the first person to use ParksPass.

The app will allow state parks visitors to purchase day-use passes, buy permits, access real-time trail and parking information and search for local activities and parks. The technology was developed and designed by students and industry experts, giving students hands-on experience and presenting new ways for parks visitors to access information the day of their trip. 

Jason Pitts, a Southern Utah University research fellow, started the project 2 1/2 years ago when he noticed some problems with the way national and state parks were communicating with their visitors. From there, Pitts and his partners at Dixie State and the parks division decided to involve students.

It was a win-win for students and state parks, Eric Pedersen, dean of the college of science, engineering and technology at Dixie State, told St. George News. 

“Students were highly involved with every aspect of the project,” he said. “They’re getting a transformative experience that makes them very valuable in the private sector.”

Visitors will be able to purchase a day-use pass for a specific day electronically instead of having to give cash to a gate attendant or a feed tube when they arrive at the park. Scott Strong, deputy director of the parks division, said when visitors get to the park, they can show their receipt at the gate or scan the QR code on the side of the pay tube to get into the park.

Dixie State hired three students to develop and design the part of the app that users will see. They also designed the signs and QR codes for the state parks. The opportunity gave students hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get at internships with bigger companies, said Cade Gardner, who spent 20 hours a week working on developing the app for more than a year.

Dixie State University and Southern Utah University students and alumni present Gov. Spencer Cox, right, with a Parks Pass plaque at Snow Canyon State Park, Jan. 1, 2021 | Photo provided by Dixie State University, St. George News.

“The purpose was to set students up for success and that’s what it’s done for me,” he said. “My favorite part was putting it all together. As a developer, I can see the front end, and it’s cool to see everything as it comes up.” 

Strong told St. George News the app is the first of its kind not only because students were involved in the development process but also because Utah’s state parks will be the first to digitize day-use passes, collect data and use a messaging system where visitors can communicate with park management.

“In the past, we’ve always handed out a brochure,” Strong said. “This app will have maps that tell you where there’s a parking lot, what you can and can’t do.

The app will also show the location of the trailhead, where it goes and whether it’s moderate or easy, as well as allow users to post videos and communicate with the park. 

“Say you and your dog are going down the trail and there’s a pothole, you can take a photo or send a message, and the app will keep track of your coordinates and tell the park.”

The app will also save visitors a trip to the ATM to get cash for an entrance fee, Strong said, and visitors will be able to search for specific activities, such as kayaking, hiking or any other outdoor activity. The app will provide information about the nearest park that offers that activity, and if the nearest park has no available parking space or visitor capacity, it will suggest the next nearest park. It also eliminates the need for face-to-face contact between park staff and visitors, Strong said. 

Utahns can preview the app now online. The app is only available at state parks in Southern Utah, but in the next few months it will be available to all Utahns, Strong said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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