California State Park + 42 Develop App Together

California State Park + 42 Develop App Together

Many of us at 42 enjoy the beauty of the California State Parks and like to soak in the great outdoors when we aren’t inside the lab. According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the first state park in California was developed in the mid 19th century in response to a grassroots movement that recognized the importance of preserving shared outdoor spaces. Today there are 280 parks in the California State Park system that cover more than 1.5 millions acres of land and receive more than 60 million visitors per year. This makes the development of this app even more exciting because we dream of expanding this project from one state park to several more in the future.

Gaetan Juvin, Chief Academic Officer at 42, is passionate about developing educational projects that help the environment, “Education is a way to save the world. Although I am French I want to help protect the beautiful lands in California. Last summer I sent an email to 100 different park representatives telling them how we have a lot of students with a lot of energy who want to help. We heard back from about 15 people, and we narrowed it down to one proposal. For me, it’s a perfect situation because these collaborations help the parks, the students, and the environment.” Jeremy Lin, program coordinator for Wilderness Patrol at Rancho del Oso, a part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park which is 17 miles north of Santa Cruz, proposed a project that 42 felt best aligned with their educational goals.

Building A State Park App

The Wilderness Patrol app was developed to address the needs of the California State Park system and the 1,300 Wilderness Patrol volunteers at Rancho del Oso. The code for the app was initially built by a small team of people: Andy Pham, Tony Hendrick, and Akia Vongdara. Built from the ground up, the app was designed to be built upon further and now Elliot Tregoning and Ian Wagner are the only students working on the project full-time. The app like any major project, needed a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective to really take it to another level, and that is exactly what Elliot and Ian have done. The team behind this app want to emphasize the impact that these apps can have on the parks system. It gives Wilderness Patrol volunteers a tool that makes it easy to accurately report any issues they encounter. By having a more efficient and streamlined reporting system, the California Parks Department can recognize problems, make any necessary repairs and thus improve the beauty of the parks while also reducing expenses. 

Interesting Fact: The first California State Park, “Yo-Semite Valley,” was eventually returned to the federal government in the early 20th century and became part of the surrounding Yosemite National Park.

 

What is the purpose of your state parks project?

This project is filling a need that already existed: the main purpose is not only to streamline the parks volunteer system but also to have a positive impact on the number of visitors that will eventually help them get more funding. We’re hoping that the Wilderness Patrol app will contribute to the preservations of these lands and help the parks be around for generations to come. This app is not for public use; it is specifically designed for Wilderness Patrol volunteers. All of the issues in the park need to stay within the park system to get fixed. Jeremy has 1,300 volunteers reporting information and before this app, it was much more difficult because the only reporting tool they had was a shared Excel sheet.

How does the state parks app work?

Our app can pinpoint your exact location on the map, in the middle of the forest, even without any cell service.  It gives the Wilderness Patrol volunteers a map-based view of the parks, that they can onlay report any issues so they can see it in the map view. They can give a more detailed report of the issue, and to streamline the process all of the reports are organized into one section. Basically, the app allows Wilderness Patrol volunteers to crowdsource the information.

Tell us more about your 3-day wilderness hike to test the app:

Being out there to test the app was fantastic. Troubleshooting an app can always be a good or a bad thing. Everything kept on going great, and Jeremy was ecstatic about it. The app will show your location even without your cell signal, it only needs your location via coordinates by satellite.  Our test phase consisted of a 3-day trip, 30 miles, through 3 different state parks. We started at Castle Rock State Park, and we finished in Portola Redwoods State Park.  

Describe the work you did on the project:

Elliot discussed his role in the project, “I was chosen for this team to do to UI design, but because of the size of our team, I had to work on all facets of  the app, such as user management, which I had absolutely no experience with prior to this — I wrote the user login and account creation  system, and it was my very first time ever doing this, so I was pretty proud of myself for that, it’s actually pretty hard to do!” Ian added, “I worked on the refactoring of the code, taking what was there, fixing any errors and making it better. We spent a lot of time trying to make the navigation system of the app and optimizing user experience. We also had to recognize and then fix front-end stuff.”

What was the most difficult part of building an app?

Since the project was passed on to us, probably working on such a huge code base. Due to the requirements of the app store,  it still required a lot of work and we had to make sure it was secure and didn’t crash phones. It will be available for both Android and iPhone. We are working on the login system and making it in a way so that only approved people, volunteers, are able to sign-up.

What did you enjoy most about your project?

The best part was the people we got to work with. Coding is part of the job, another part of the job is testing it. Ian shared, “The development cycle has been a great thing, as well as the contacts we have met, and to see where this can go. With more design and tweaking, we could make this more large scale and it could be across the country. Seeing how we designed a system that was broken, and fixing that for them, was great. The state parks are my favorite thing about this country, they are beautiful.” Josh Trujillo, program manager for Rabbit Cloud stated, “This is a perfect example of a ‘Save the World’ project, it is software that should be made, but it may not be profitable.” Elliot added, “We could use the location data and integrate the camera into the app to create an AR (augmented reality) experience. Pokemon Go is a form of AR that people might already be familiar with. I have been talking with the California State Parks about their presence online, and how there might be room after this is done to boost the number of visitors. More reported visitors per day mean more money. This is a great experience for us.”

What was it like to work with the California State Park?

It’s been really great to work with them, they have been really direct and forward, and have taken us in with open arms. It has been a really fruitful project and both parties are happy with what is going on. We are getting an education and a chance to work on a project and collaborate, and they are getting to use this app. There are problems people don’t know about, like a large number of abandoned cars. Elliot explained, “When you go to a forest you expect to see fallen trees, erosion, overgrowth, water damage, and vandalism (unfortunately)… but you would never expect to see so many abandoned cars!” The California State Parks Department is passionate about preserving the beauty of the land, so this app is a great tool that they can use towards their preservation efforts.

What did you learn from this project?

Ian shared,  “I learned a lot of javascript and learned how to recognize what bugs even exist. I was using the app for 1-2 weeks and noticing extra features that weren’t there, it wasn’t very intuitive without the documentation.” Elliot added, “The most valuable skill has been debugging. Also, people take for granted what it is like to work on a team, it is different than a traditional school project. If people don’t turn in the papers in the right order, it won’t work out and will mess with your code. So it’s actually a very good skill, it is not normal teamwork, there is a lot more that goes into it.”

What future do you see for your state park app?

The future is hopefully scaling it to other places in California and hopefully to other states. There are over 10,000 state parks in the United States. It would be cool if we can make it into an app that the government likes, and if they can get funding to hire programmers to constantly maintain the app, it might go further. And basically since this is version one, we are going to have a lot of, not bugs, but people contacting us with feedback. The future of the app is to take the original idea and turn it into a polished gem that can be taken to a national level.

Meet the Team Behind the California State Park App

Name: Elliot Tregoning

Hometown: San Diego, California

Interests: Cars, backpacking, playing my guitar. I consider myself a tinkerer.  

Dream Job or long-term career goals: Land somewhere in programming, whether it is cybersecurity, software engineering or app development. I’m always journaling ideas, and someday I hope to create something of my own. Like an app, software, or even taking something analog and turning it digital.

Name: Ian Wagner

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Interests: Backpacking, camping, skiing, a lot of outdoor things.

Dream Job or long-term career goals: To start my own company in the future, or to work in AI.

 

Support The California State Park

Any outdoors enthusiast who is interested in California State Parks Backpacking Adventures can learn more about it by visiting their website.

Folks who want to support the Wilderness Patrol Volunteer program at Rancho del Oso can donate to www.randodeloso.org. Potential volunteers can contact Jeremy Lin directly at Jeremy.Lin@parks.ca.gov. Wilderness Patrol volunteers are trained in basic trail maintenance, natural resources interpretation, State Parks rules and regulations and restoration efforts within Santa Cruz District State Parks.

Note: Group photos were taken by Elise Fleishman, California State Parks

published by Stacey Faucett – April 25, 2018