Jim Mathews, UW-Madison
Work done in a two-year research project on the St. Louis River Estuary may generate tools for phone and GPS devices that can be used to enhance hikes along the river.
Geo-challenge is similar to geo-caching, where a GPS device or other mapping tool is used to find a hidden object. In the challenge the treasure is information.
It’s hoped that place-based games and virtual tours “will actually get families out there together, to have fun and to learn” about the St. Louis River estuary, says George Host, principal investigator with the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute.
Using the tools developed through the river research and depending on where you might be on the river, for example, your phone (or other hand-held device) could produce web images, history and current details about the location, even interviews with local experts. Plans are to provide vignettes about fishing, shipping, mining, water and beach quality and other issues. You might get a comparison that shows the polluted condition of a river location 30 years ago and its condition today after cleanup programs and work of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth.
This half-million-dollar estuary project is funded jointly by Minnesota Sea Grant and Wisconsin Sea Grant. The reality games and the storylines are being developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Meanwhile, George and his local colleagues in the Twin Ports are coordinating the on-site science work, which has included sampling water quality, studying insects and looking at how the river is affected by factors such as roads and population density.
A website is being created where information eventually will be available under the title “Stories and Science of the St. Louis River.”
In the long run, the joint Sea Grant research will help inform land-use decisions and development plans on the St. Louis, the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior. The results also will help prioritize monitoring, restoration and remediation efforts.