A new smartphone application will provide trail users across the state of Iowa the ability to find and document their experiences on the state’s more than 18,000 miles of multiple-use trails.
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Communication Director Hannah Inman said the free application named Iowa by Trails will launch the central Iowa version May 1. Information for the entire state will launch during RAGBRAI.
“Iowa does not have a statewide entity over the trail system,” Inman said. “People have always come to us for information, so we have provided maps out of necessity.”
The current version is only available for the iPhone, but Inman is hopeful fundraising and the design for the Android version will be completed this fall.
Inman said the maps were not easy to update or expand upon, so INHF partnered with Shift Interactive to design a smartphone application. Creston High School graduate Matt Glynn was one of the main designers for the project.
“It creates a whole new experience and allows people to start looking at trail use in a different way,” Glynn said. “The user can add photos so people can see actual photographs of the trail and points of interest along the way.”
Designing the app
Glynn’s interest in trail work started during his 10 years on the Ankeny park board.
After starting up Shift Interactive in 2011 with a couple business partners, Glynn started working on a trail application for West Des Moines.
“It started as a fun side project,” Glynn said. “I had a friend who worked with the city of West Des Moines and they became interested in purchasing the app in beta form.”
Inman said INHF saw the beta version for West Des Moines and started dreaming of the possibilities of Iowa by Trails.
“We do so much for the trails in Iowa and trying to get people outside so the idea for the app really fit into our mission statement,” Inman said. “We started fundraising about a year ago.”
Glynn, 45, said the process of creating a phone application is three main parts: figuring out the story, coding and testing.
“We spend the first third really working on the design and flow of the user experience,” Glynn said. “We want to see how users will progress through the app — where they start and where they stop — to try to make it user friendly.”
Once a basic frame of the storyline is complete, coders go to work making the visual concepts a hand-held reality.
“Then we starting testing pretty much weekly,” Glynn said. “We have people talk to us as they are using it to see how they think it should work. Inherently, how they think it should work may not match up with app.”
Inman said the staff at INHF recently received access to Iowa by Trails as the last tests are being complete.
“We have this great resource here in Iowa,” Inman said. “This is a great tool to leverage the assets of Iowa trails to local community members.”
Inman and Glynn have hopes that Iowa by Trails will help build awareness for trails and tighten the community that uses them through social media.
Eventally, INHF hopes communities see a return on economic development trails can bring to an area.
“It can be used as a tourism tool to show users where to eat, stay and sites to see along the trail and nearby,” Inman said.
The launch party kicks off at 4:30 p.m. May 1 at the hub along the Des Moines river walk. Search Iowa by Trails on Facebook to find and like the app’s page.