Right in the middle of a slow afternoon the folks at Glacier National Park managed to, at least for a day or two, make me forget the prickly debate over the National Park Service's Management Policies with a wonderfully innovative product that lets you visit the park from the comfort of your own home.
Conceptualized, designed and created by a trio of Glacier employees, the nicely done eHikes program you can access by visiting Glacier's web site takes you into a corner of the park's backcountry via a multi-media presentation that is the next best thing to going on a ranger-led hike.
Don't misunderstand. This product -- which I believe is a first for the Park Service -- certainly won't replace actually being there and going on a ranger-led hike. You can't smell the loamy understory or the fragrant forest, wet your toes in a creek or lake, or ask a question. But this free, informative program gives you a glimpse of Glacier in a way that not only will help you decide if you want to visit the park, but also help you pinpoint where you go when you get there.
The brainchild of Interpretive Specialist Bill Hayden, Visual Information Specialist David Restivo and Information Technology Specialist Tim Gilk, Glacier's eHikes program debuts with a trip up the popular Avalanche Creek Trail. By melding together still photos, audio, video and text, the interactive program takes you from the trailhead to Avalanche Lake. Along the way you can listen to the chirping, squawking and warbling of Black-capped Chickadees, Steller's Jays, Northern Flickers, and the Varied Thrush. Also audible is the cascading Avalanche Creek itself.
Short video clips show you swimming Harlequin ducks, the creek cascading through Avalanche Gorge, a bird's-eye view of the topography around Avalanche Creek and the lake, even some ranger talks. Bites of text provide some nice, but short, interpretive information, the kind you'd get from a ranger on a hike.
Ironically, this new feature zipped through cyberspace into my email box just as I was test-driving a CD-ROM mapping program for national parks. (More on that in a later post.)
Along with the multi-media tour, the interface provides information on the location of the hike, how much elevation you'll gain, the distance from the trailhead to the main attraction, how difficult the hike is, and how popular it is. There's even a 3-D overview.
While Glacier so far has only been able to produce this one eHike, more are planned in the coming months. On the schedule are eHikes to the Mount Brown Lookout, Apgar Lookout, Red Eagle Lake and Dawson-Pitamakan. The last two are backpacking trips.
The only problem I found with this program is that folks with dial-up Internet service are not going to like how sloooowwww it takes to load. Even with my DSL service it took a few minutes to download the program. But once it was loaded, it was quick, easy and even fun to maneuver through.