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Iowa by Trail app debuts

The new Iowa by Trial smartphone application allows central Iowans to further explore Iowa’s natural beauty along recreational trails.

The application, or ‘app’ as they’re commonly known, will help cyclists, hikers, birders and runners track their position, guiding them to the nearest trail head or points of interest along or near recreational trails. The app will also allow users to keep track of “distance covered” along trails they’ve traversed, and communicate with others about their experiences.

Trail users can receive periodic information boxes telling them more about the trail’s history, weather and showing photos taken by previous travelers.

Fundraising for and development of this app was spearheaded by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), a nonprofit conservation organization committed to protecting and restoring Iowa’s land, water and wildlife. INHF partnered with Shift Interactive, an Iowa-based company, to create the app and its accompanying website.

The app can be used in central Iowa now, with statewide release anticipated for July 19 as more data is gathered on the state’s trails. The app is currently only available on the iPhone. An Android version is scheduled for release in the fall.

“We’re becoming very much known for our trail system,” said Hannah Inman, communications coordinator for the INHF. “We have one of the best trail systems in the U.S. and the world. Because of events like RAGBRAI and places like the High Trestle Trail, people are starting to know Iowa as a place to come for cycling. These trails elevate Iowa’s status as a place to visit.”

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, there are approximately 750 miles of paved and unpaved trails in Polk County, with an additional 190 miles in Story and 135 in Jasper, respectively. These numbers do not account for hiking, dirt or any other recreational trail types. Inman estimated that there are over 1,800 miles of paved multi-use trails throughout Iowa.

When the Iowa by Trail app makes its debut, it is believed that it will be the first statewide interactive guide of trails anywhere in the nation. Inman is quick to point out that this will not only increase and improve recreational access for Iowans, but will provide them with the benefits of seeing Iowa’s natural beauty with their own eyes.

“As our population grows more urban and less rural, trails connect urban to rural and everything in-between,” said Inman, “When you’re on the trail, you inherently notice the natural resources. For instance, on the High Trestle Trail, which goes through Polk and Boone counties, when you’re on the bridge, you can see wildlife like hawks, you see the wide open spaces below and you can see the river and water quality, as well as the effects of droughts or floods. It’s one way to connect people to our natural environment.”

Inman also points out that there will likely be positive economic benefits for businesses in towns along the trail - it’s a chance for residents of larger cities like Des Moines to experience what some of smaller towns in their area have to offer. It’s possible that businesses along trails may help sponsor apps like these in the future. Since the INHF believes that the trails belong to the citizens of Iowa, the organization is working through how to make the app ‘as unintrusive as possible,’ while still providing benefits for both businesses and communities along the trails.

The INHF only involves itself politically when it directly affects Iowa conservation, so Inman and the INHF encourages all Iowans to support programs like Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) and Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL). Programs such as these have enjoyed bipartisan support over their lifespans and help establish outdoor recreational opportunities - like trails - for people across the state.

“Conservation funding is always something that people can support for more outdoor opportunities,” said Inman. “Any time REAP is fully funded at $25 million it really helps us out[Gov. Branstad, citing a decrease in state revenues in the last month, recently cut REAP funding to $16 million after the legislature had approved the full $25 million], not just for trails and public spaces today, but for future generations. There is also the 3/8-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2010 that the legislature has yet to fund. If it were funded, this would be a game-changer and an economic engine for Iowa in terms of soil, water quality and wildlife. We really would love to see that happen.”

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